Data, Education, Head Start, Ohio, Preschools, Public Schools, Schools

Heads Up to all Head Start Parents in Ohio

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The Ohio Department of Education is currently rolling out an unfunded mandatory reporting and data-collecting system which advantageously has your children’s preschool teachers falling into a very expensive and cumbersome TIME SUCK! It is part of the ‘cradle to college’ movement.  It is the very beginning of digital portfolios which will follow your children (all children) all the way through their school years.

It is called the Early Learning Assessments. (ELA, not to be confused with English Language Arts which also uses that acronym!) I will try to explain it as best as I can. We preschool teachers have guides (you have likely heard the term Standards) to which our curriculum and thus our lesson planning are aligned.

The ODE is now requiring that preschool teachers collect and enter all the information for their formative assessments into a huge state data base.

Part of a teacher’s job is to assess the students; so assessing is not new. There are two types of assessments, formative and summative. So, for example, if I observe Loriquel as she is playing in the dramatic play center, and she hands an orange dress to one of her friends and says “Here, you can wear this orange dress.” I would jot that down on a paper (formative assessment) and make note that Loriquel properly identified the color of the dress. Looking over my notes, (ongoing process, and truthfully most of my notes are mental and there is not much time available to stop what I am doing and write it all down)  I might add several other colored dresses to the dramatic play center, or perhaps I would introduce several items that were different shades of orange (a scarf, a wallet, or sunglasses) and then play in the dramatic center with Loriquel, pointing out other ways to describe orange (cantaloupe, neon, burnt orange, etc.) So, I observe where Loriquel is at in her knowledge or skills and then formulate a way to take her to the next level from that knowledge or skill set. A summative assessment, on the other hand might look more like this: I call Loriquel over to the table where I have a card with various colors on it and ask her to name the various colors. I check off which ones she knows and which ones she does not know. I record that information. She was successful in naming the colors or not, and that would pretty much be the end of that. Usually a summative assessment is for someone else’s benefit, not the teacher themselves. The ODE insists the ELA is a formative assessment tool.  I disagree full heartedly. This does not benefit me as a teacher, you as a parent, or your child in any way. This rigamaroll is all for someone else’s benefit.

The ODE wants preschool teachers to basically enter all of their notes and observations for their formative assessments into very specific, boxed categories on the computer. The way we currently do formative assessments dovetails into the fluid, fast-paced, constant changes that occur in your young children’s development. The way the ODE is demanding this be done is a very jerky, stop-action method which pulls teachers away from your children and towards a computer screen. Truthfully by the time the information is entered on the computer, your child will or should well be onto the next level, so time-lapses will be horrid. I keep imagining a strobe light effect as opposed to sunlight dancing in through a window.

For now it is just those centers who receive ECE funding or funding for children with special needs (most of those being the Head Start programs). But, moving forward, ALL Ohio preschools and K-12 schools will be made to do this.

For now it is only required of those teaching 3-5 year olds, but they want it to be from birth as soon as they can get everyone trained. (Seriously, like a caregiver of a 6 week-old baby needs to be on a computer instead of holding & bonding with your sweet new one!)

For now, it is mandatory to report in 10 of 32 areas. This will actually be 24 entries in the computer now (per child) for the 10 areas, and 74 data entries (per child) eventually, when the 32 areas will be reported.

For now it is to be done twice a year, but they will eventually require this to be done for every preschooler four times a year.

My ratios for 4 year olds are 1:14. So realistically when this becomes a full-blown data feeding frenzy, I will have to collect and enter 4,144 bits of information into a computer system, all backed by evidence and observations which will each and every single one need to be scanned. How much time and mental energy do you think that all will require? Time that could far better be spent rearranging my room, pre-cutting materials, previewing next level reading choices, creating a new math manipulative activity, or just talking with or holding your young one on my lap.

The ODE’s argument is that we already do formative (ongoing assessments) so we truly will be doing nothing new! But then they hypocritically pulled us for two whole days from our classes to be trained and tested on all of this! So yes, it is new and an additive!

They are just beginning (testing it out) with the ones who are very bound up with the state by financial reliance. Thus, the preschools with the most vulnerable student and parent populous will have to answer up to the implementation of this problematic new system.

The worst part is they have spent millions upon millions upon millions of dollars on all of this and that alone is driving them all to push it all through, no matter the problems, concerns or negative feedback. How much more effective it would have been to approach preschool teachers on a large scale and directly ask them what would better their teaching abilities, and improve their classrooms for the sake of the children. I cannot imagine any teacher ever suggesting this system.

It won’t work. It will completely backfire. It is a costly farce.

The time constraints will be impossible to fulfill. A preschool teacher does NOT have time in their manic busy weeks to sit in front of a computer entering data. That is ludicrous. Administrators do not have it in their tight-as-can-be-budgets to pay floaters or substitutes to enter classrooms, to cover the time that teachers would require to enter all of this “necessary” data into the computers.

The technology gaps will reveal themselves all over the board. The few computers in most preschools are used nearly one hundred percent of the time for all the office related duties. Head Start centers in particular have a more than full-time job just trying to keep up-to-date on all of the insane amounts of red tape and required paperwork that comes with the state funding, as well as with the constantly-changing rules and regulations, and the numerous printings and reprintings of required updates for official forms.

Technician help will be stretched to the maximum limits. (No, preschools do not have their own tech support!) In our training class of sixteen teachers, one person was able to successfully set up their password as instructed ahead of time. My boss tried for two straight weeks to get three of us registered, and was beyond frustrated.  The second day, when we had to “take our test online” the computers were not letting us into the program, and the instructor said, “well it is difficult sometimes when many are trying to get on at the same time!” (16 is many?) To get to the forms we actually will be filling out online, I kid you not, we had to enter into like 5 different pages with correct names and passwords. On that day they had 2 additional tech support folks there, and it was still beyond chaotic. Can you imagine these poor centers who will be the very first ones trying to use all of this?

All of this money they are blowing. All of the many, many well-paid people the ODE has hired on their end to manufacture and maintain all of this top-down hoopla directly withdrawals from the ability to pay teachers their value and worth.  I make $9 an hour to teach your children (now, to evidently enter excessive amounts of futile data), with no benefits and no paid leave or sick days. The money they spent on all of the glossy, cardstock, full-color print 330+ pages they gave us (and which every preschool teacher will receive) made me physically feel ill when I started to think of the big-picture money they must have invested, and how differently I would have chosen to spend such grand amounts in order to benefit the wee ones we teach, and you their families.

And tell me please what they will find out from studying all of their data. I sure bet they will find out that poverty affects learning! Oh wait, we already more than know that. The research is extensive and conclusive.  I suppose their algorithms might point to the fact that children need to feel safe and nurtured in order for their brains to develop. Oh, that’s right, we already know that also! Wow, but it would be ever so wonderful if they would extrapolate from all of this data that children learn best while playing! But again, research has solidly shown that over and over ad nauseum. And on the list goes! We know, without more data points, that the fine arts feed children’s intelligent creativity. We know that field trips stimulate hands-on exploration and curiosity. We know that children’s movement on wonderful playgrounds directly affects their reading and language intake and ability.

This is not a tool; it is a talon of the vulture capitalists. It will not inform my instruction; it likely will pressure me personally to give up my profession. This will not better the classrooms for your children; it will deplete the valuable rare resources of time and energy. This is not a child-centered project despite all of its appearances; it is a drain on the ones who have made your children’s growth the very center of their professional career choices. The ODE uses you the parent by putting words in your mouth and saying that you want this program so that you can see where your child is in a glance on a spreadsheet. As a mom of five, I angrily scream bullshit.  Primary caregivers know where their children are in development and if they feel uncertain about the nitty-gritty details, they merely have to ask their teachers, not log-in to a statewide database.  How cold and impersonal.

The money is as good as incinerated. Money strangely does seem to come and go (and it never does trickle-down). But it is the time factors that are irreplaceable.

There are no do-overs. Your children are only young once. My time to teach them is precious and cannot be deliberately stolen away in such an irresponsible way.

I encourage you strongly to be “in the know” and I warn you, because it is tied in with so much money and politics, that it is already a monstous, full-blown machine already very much set into motion.

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