One of the reasons that our family moved from Wasatch County to Utah County last month was to be closer to the school in Alpine (Utah County) that my son is attending this year. The 50-mile (times two) daily commute was worth it.
Filled with uniformed students and happy-looking staff, Mountainville Academy’s a cheerful, academically-focused K-9 school that displays the Covey Seven Habits of Highly Effective People posters all over the school (and incorporates the 7 habits into classwork.) Parents each volunteer 40 or more hours of service to the school, and it shows.
We chose Mountainville Academy because it was one of the few remaining public schools that was using time-tested, excellent Saxon Math (2007 version; pre-Common Core), and it was a rare school where students were grouped by achievement level rather than by age, at least for math. This meant that a sixth grader would often be found in an eighth grade math class, or vice versa, placed not by government tests, but by a “results-remained-in-the-school” performance test.
Also, despite the government mandate that the school administer end-of-year Common Core SAGE/AIR tests, the school had been gracious with parents who chose to opt students out of those end of year tests.
This school year had been good, so far.
But last night, I received a school email that has resulted in our family’s decision that our son will not attend Mountainville next year. I was so sad. I truly felt sold out, as Alyson Williams described it, because this board could not claim ignorance. I had met with them, presented to them, emailed them, shown them links and documentation and countless reasons why this decision would harm the students and the school.
The email, from the school’s academic excellence committee, stated that despite the two presentations I made, and despite other parents also speaking out, the school will abandon “results-remain-in-the-school” performance testing, to adopt year-round, formative SAGE/Common Core testing.
This, the email said, was in the best interests of the children.
I was sickened by the email’s news, but also confused– how can anyone, having received the amount of information and documentation that I presented and emailed to the board and the committee about SAGE/AIR, still say with seriousness that this decision was “in the best interests of the children”?
I don’t get it.
But I’m going to post the email that I gave to the board, which the board had requested from me as a follow-up to my five or ten minute oral presentation. I’m also going to post the email I received last night.
So, is this an epic ruination of a great, formerly-parent-led school, or was this decision made truly “in the best interests of the children”? The school has been altered to its very center. The school-altering decision was made without taking a vote from parents, without even announcing in the weekly “Mountainville Minute” that the school will now be very, very different.
It will be administering Common Core testing throughout the year, and on purpose, voluntarily, rather than only administering the state-mandated end of year SAGE/AIR test. It will necessarily align its teachings more and more to the federal desires for what college-and-career readiness is, because placing students in different levels of learning will be structured all year long now upon common core testing and teaching.
I can’t see any way that this course of action can take place and still keep classic education, Saxon math for example, at the school for long. Because formative tests are utterly Common Core and David-Coleman-club aligned, to get the state version of “excellent” scores on these tests, teachers will be pressured to teach more Common Core and less classic Saxon. The formative tests will form student’s paths and teacher’s definitions of what education now means, and that’s giving up the reins of power, reins that had made this school so unique and wonderful.
Beyond the academic transformation is something probably even more serious: student data privacy. Privacy for Mountainville students is thrown out the window, because individuals and schools were the only defense we had against the federal-corporate partnership that is aiming to rape the nation of its student privacy.
The state government won’t protect us if Mountainville’s board won’t; the state’s SLDS (State Longitudinal Database System) tracks children without parental consent or knowledge and gives much of it to the federal EdFacts Data Exchange and to the corporate American Institutes for Research, which is then free to share that data with its countless affiliates, including Data Recognition Corporation and Smarter Balanced Advisory Consortium (SBAC) which happens to be under contract to share its student level data with the federal government. American Institutes for Research, the primary data collector of Utah’s SAGE tests, is a behavioral research organization focused on psychometric data collection and behavior.
All of this is known to Mountainville’s Board of Trustees, and with full knowledge, the Board has decided to still jump on the year-round SAGE testing bandwagon. Neither preserving a classical education nor student data privacy apparently matters too much to the Mountainville Board.
But it does to me.
My heart goes out to the students and their families who will remain at Mountainville, most likely oblivious to the fact that the school’s educational program and their student’s academic and behavioral data privacy just took a very sharp nose dive down.
Here are the emails.
On Oct 13, 2014, at 2:12 PM, Christel wrote:
Dear Mountainville Academy,
I’m following up from last week’s school board meeting with a summary of my concerns underlying my request that Mountainville Academy continue to use the in-house testing system that’s worked so well in past years, rather than switching over to the state’s SAGE/AIR formative testing system.
(I began to study education reforms two and a half years ago and have researched, summarized and posted findings at “Common Core: Education Without Representation” where I hope you will read much more than I can summarize here about student data privacy, the common core experimental standards, and the unconstitutionality and freedom-sapping of recent education reforms.)
The reason my sixth grade son’s commuted 50 miles– from Heber to Alpine– and back, each day this school year (up until this week when our family moved from Heber to Pleasant Grove) is that Mountainville is very different in important, crucial ways, from other public schools. I love those differences and want them to remain in place.
- The use of time-tested Saxon math rather than the kind of experimental Common Core math that’s being taught elsewhere was reason #1 for our choosing Mountainville.
- Reason #2 was the in-house testing that places children where they need to be, rather than placing them in a common pace that does not serve individual needs as well; the fact that these in-house test results remained only at Mountainville, rather than being submitted to state or federal entities— as government-mandated school tests are– was a big deal to me.
If Mountainville switches to SAGE/AIR formative testing, I predict that many parents, like me, will very sadly decide to leave the school. Here’s why:
- LOCAL CONTROL: American Institutes for Research (AIR), the company that writes Utah’s SAGE tests (along with some limited Utah educator input), represents a lack of local control and freedom to me. AIR is federally approved and is officially partnered with the federally funded and micromananged SBAC, Utah’s former Common Core test maker. AIR/SAGE partnership makes Utah indirectly partnered with the federal government via that SBAC partnership. AIR has a progressive, left-leaning agenda, a focus on psychometric rather than academic testing, and a set of values that do not match mine. I do not trust that the questions will be values-neutral nor that the questions will not push children toward pre-determined beliefs that go far beyond traditional academic facts or even critical thinking about traditional truth. I feel this way about AIR based on carefully studying AIR’s own website, mission statement, clients, staff, secretive questions, history; vague responses by the USOE and state leaders in response to parental concerns; the research of Alpine School Board members, and the actual contract between AIR and Utah.
- PARENTAL KNOWLEDGE: Neither Mountainville parents nor teachers are ever allowed to view SAGE tests– not even months after the testing has happened.
- PRIVACY: Privacy will go out the window. What is reported about students by Mountainville to the state, federal and corporate research entities will go from a tiny trickle to a fast-flowing river of data. Formerly, Mountainville performance tests remained at the school level. Now, the state of Utah would be tracking and collecting all in-house formative information on each child, without parental knowledge or consent. While parents can opt out of end of year SAGE tests, they cannot opt out of year -round formative tests while remaining at this school.
- FEEDING THE SLDS: Because the legislature has not clearly defined, as far as I can tell, who owns individual student data in our state, the state is making what I feel is the wrong assumption –that it owns or is entitled to student data. Common sense says that the student and his/her family should own his/her data. Because it’s not clear in current law, our children are unprotected. This is evidenced by the existence of the state longitudinal database system (SLDS) which follows and tracks students without parental knowledge or consent, from the moment a parent registers a child for school (unless it’s private school) until the child is in the workforce. The SLDS system was created to federal specifications, with federal interoperability rules, using $9.6 million federal dollars to build Utah’s SLDS. Every other state also has a federally paid for SLDS. Much student data is shared from the SLDS to the federal EdFacts Data Exchange. Because we do not know exactly what data is shared from Utah to the federal government, we are wise to not feed Utah’s SLDS any more data that we are absolutely required to by state law; i.e., don’t drop our in-house testing and use the state’s SAGE/AIR system.
- FEEDING THE NDCM DATA POINTS: There is a National Data Collection Model at the federal level which requests– it does not mandate, but it requests— over 400 data points about every student in our state. It is an invasion of student and family privacy, yet at the state level, Utah is increasingly conforming to the NDCM requests using its P-20 system promoted in Governor Herbert’s Prosperity 2020 program. I do not see any benefit or need to cooperate with these unethical requests.
- FERPA WAS SHREDDED: We are not protected by formerly protective federal privacy law, FERPA. The Department of Education went behind Congress’ back to make regulatory, policy changes (not laws, but still binding). These changes included reducing the requirement to get parental consent (before viewing/sharing student data) to a “best practice” rather than a mandate. The changes also included redefining personally identifiable information (pii) as biometric information. That means that behavioral data (the type of data AIR specializes in collecting) and biological data can be used to identify students at the federal level. The Federal Register lists fingerprints, blood type, handwriting samples, DNA and many other methods of identifying pii of a student.. We have to ask ourselves whether a vast data-collection archive or student privacy is of greater value to our children. We cannot have control of both.
- DON’T PASS THE BUCK ON PROTECTING CHILDREN: In my experience I have found that most Utah legislators, state school board members and even our governor’s staff do not know nor work to understand these things.. They have not taken the time to understand recent education reform changes, or they see them as a positive thing.
We cannot depend on others to protect our children. We need to be the first line of defense as parents, teachers and local school board members. I ask you to retain Mountainville’s in-house tests, keep the strengths of Mountainville, and reject the opportunity to use Utah’s SAGE/AIR year-round testing system.
Mountainville Academy Parent
(also a Utah credentialed teacher)
Date: Mon, Nov 10, 2014 at 2:05 PM
Subject: Re: Request to continue with in-house testing rather than
formative SAGE testing
I just wanted to let you know the status of our SAGE testing decisions.
At Mountainville Academy, we make every decision based on what is best for our students. After listening to all sides with concerns about SAGE testing, we as an academic excellence committee has decided to go ahead with the interim SAGE testing. We feel that it will help students learn and prepare for SAGE testing in the spring. As you know, spring SAGE testing is mandatory and schools are not allowed to opt out of testing.
After reviewing the results from SAGE testing of spring 2014, we recognize the many challenges that come with a new test, but are excited by the tools created to help our students achieve greater understanding of various topics.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have. I completely understand your concerns and we will continue to monitor the testing and SAGE program. Thanks for coming to our board and committee meeting.
Board of Trustees
(For those with concerns, look into schools that are not yet taking the path of Common Core year-round testing. In Utah County there’s the (fully aware of the Common Core problem) Maesar Prep (a public chartered jr. and high school), American Heritage (private K-12), Timpanogos (public elementary charter) or one of the many home school co-op academies nearby.)