Against Testing

Against Testing
By Dr. Richard Thripp
May 8, 2021

An over-emphasis on testing is often justified on the basis that we need to be able to measure student learning and achievement. Proponents of testing herald it as valuable data that teachers and administrators use to inform their practices. In truth, teachers rarely use data from many of the standardized or district-level assessments being used, and administrators often use it to draw precisely the wrong conclusions. Assessments themselves are often lacking in the way of design and relevance, with a focus on multiple-choice questions with 4 choices per question and questions that are misaligned with curricular standards, what is actually being taught, and what is of actual importance to be assessed. Furthermore, as a teacher, I have on several occasions observed district assessments where the “right” answer was in fact subjective and debatable, due to another choice being just as good. In some cases, such as a question that claimed the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee was established in the 1950s (it was established in 1938), they are just plain wrong.

Although I am astute enough to avoid subscribing to the logical fallacy of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, nonetheless it is not debatable that assessments gobble up valuable instructional time. Why do we keep finding ways to restrict, curtail, and interrupt instructional time? Tests on top of tests, along with unnecessarily disruptive events, announcements, safety drills, and school procedures that are almost deviously designed to entice truancy. For example, in my teaching practice at a high school, it was discovered mid-year by administration that they had no way to produce reports on students who skipped only some periods, but not the whole day. This burden was promptly shifted to teachers by way of a mass email asking teachers to report such students, which once again serves to take away instructional time. Many teachers have 10%, 20%, or even more of their periods taken up with tasks such as distributing testing notifications or other papers to students, writing passes, unlocking or asking a colleague to unlock credit retrieval assessments, and sending mountains of emails.

While the aforementioned problems are not new, in the wake of COVID-19 they have been exacerbated by increased absenteeism, and, in Florida, a 2020–2021 school year that started out with fake promises of fewer assessments, when in fact politicians and school leaders should have said we are not only going to do the regular amount of assessing, but add assessments for the noble goal of enhanced “monitoring” of student progress, plus administer all the assessments that were canceled last year due to the virus. Clear-minded educators know that assessments are of no value unless they are assessing the fruits of actual teaching and learning. Teachers and students alike are dejected, with a sizable proportion of students just guessing or picking at random on most items. Others want to succeed, but have not actually had the requisite instruction needed to succeed on the assessments. Instead of making time and space for education, we test them anyway, and then we congratulate ourselves for doing such a good job testing them, bandying about terms like “accountability” and “growth.” Sometimes, as in April 2021, we announce that statewide exams are not going to count, but we are still going to do them and they may count depending on how it goes. Where is the logic? When are we going to end this charade? Most educators are loath to speak out because in education, we live by the Japanese proverb, “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” This needs to change.

In Defense of Masks: To the Volusia County School Board

I wrote this and sent it to the Volusia County School Board.

May 7, 2021

Dear Volusia County School Board members,

I attended part of the April 27th meeting and want to thank you for your patience in listening to the public. However, please be aware that many of the anti-mask “Moms for Liberty” speakers are organized and funded by dark money:

https://www.masspoliticsprofs.org/2021/04/12/koch-connections-and-sham-grassroots-of-parents-defending-education/

These speakers are reciting similar talking points which are based on bad logic, appeals to emotion rather than reason, and outright misinformation. It is wrong of these speakers to try to bully you into a decision which may cause needless deaths and lifelong ailments.

The science is clear and readily available regarding the efficacy of masks and dangers of COVID-19. One of the big issues is that although teachers such as me are vaccinated, children under 16 cannot yet be vaccinated and we know they frequently spread COVID-19 to each other and to older relatives at home who may either be vaccine hesitant or contraindicated from receiving the vaccine (e.g., due to severe allergies).

As a Volusia high school teacher, I have had numerous students contract COVID-19, some with lingering symptoms. I put my family’s life at risk each day as I saw many other teachers contract COVID-19, including almost an entire academic department. It isn’t right to ask our unvaccinated kids to put their lives on the line by compelling them to be exposed to other unmasked students. Although some parents have promised to cause legal trouble for you and to pull their kids out of school if the mask mandate is retained, this is the safer and wiser course of action. Furthermore, I believe the contingent of parents who will remove their kids from school if the mask mandate is ended prematurely is, in fact, larger. I know many of these parents personally.

Finally, I will close by debunking the argument that kids are already behaving unsafely during sports and outside of school, so why require masks in the classroom? The answer is that being protected some of the time is better than none of the time. COVID-19 transmission mainly occurs indoors, by air. The less time you spend indoors around other people, and the more time you spend masked, the better. COVID-19 is a proven killer, far more dangerous and deadly than colds or influenza. We should not treat it cavalierly. Right now, we need you to take a stand for the right decision. Although you will be lambasted in the short term, you will save lives and history will remember your bravery.

Sincerely,
Dr. Richard Thripp (he/him)
Chair of the Volusia County Democratic Party

Q&A on My Activism and Our Goals for Volusia Democrats

Here is a questionnaire I completed about my new role as Chair of the Volusia County Democratic Party, my activism and volunteer efforts over recent years, and our plans for 2021 and beyond to engage in our community and fight for people who have been marginalized.


Tell us about your main professional accomplishments at your workplace:

I was just elected Chair of the Volusia County Democratic Party on December 8th, 2020. One of our big accomplishments has been getting young people to be politically engaged. I ran for Congress earlier this year garnering 28,661 (48.5%) in the August 18th Democratic primary. The same volunteer base as well as many new volunteers are joining us to engage with voters in Volusia County. Our overall mission is to help marginalized people, particularly by electing candidates who represent and advocate for everyone.


Tell us about your volunteer efforts in the community in the past two years:

Right now we have a prominent local Democrat matching donations to food banks, so we’re hoping to hit over $2,500 donated with that. People are really hurting right now. I was not politically involved before this year and in fact grew up as a conservative Republican. There was a series of things that transformed my perspective, such as studying financial literacy and the marginalization of teachers, women, and people of color during my PhD dissertation. I’ve become a Black Lives Matter advocate, attending many marches and protests, writing public statements and letters, and so forth. I’ve also become a strong advocate for climate justice and a Green New Deal, having learned the enormity of the greenhouse gases dilemma. What we are fighting for requires political action, because embracing the intersectionality of politics and volunteering provides much more leverage than trying to volunteer while avoiding politics. The causes we are fighting for are as real as ever even though they may have receded in public view recently.

As a teacher educator at the University of Central Florida for over 2 years, I worked to instill a love of learning and of innovative pedagogical practices in our next generation of teachers. Presently I am teaching social studies at New Smyrna Beach High School where I endeavor to bring history alive and meet students where they are at. I have one at-risk student who is showing up to class again, getting excited about U.S. history for the first time, and turning in work. His father is thrilled. In July 2020 I co-chaired the International Conference on Humanities, Social and Education Sciences which brought together researchers from all over the globe in a digital format. Although it may seem a bit unusual, I really love to volunteer as a personal finance educator and want to incorporate this into my role as party chair by holding free events. I have had an enduring interest in this topic having made it the focus of my Master’s degree capstone project in 2016 and Education PhD dissertation in 2019.


Tell us anything else you’ve done to make Volusia and Flagler counties a better place.

I lived in the Holly Hill / Ormond Beach area most of my life and now on the west side of Volusia in Orange City. As a teenager I volunteered (and at age 15 was paid) at the Holly Hill Public Library where I helped put together children’s programs, taught computer classes to senior citizens, and so on. I also worked as a tutor and newspaper editor at Daytona State College, and in 2014–2017 was involved in the Toastmasters nonprofit to help myself and others become better public speakers, as the President of Port Orange Toastmasters for one year and Treasurer for the year after, but I had to give it up to focus on my PhD program.

I am continuing to work now to have a greater impact in this new role as Chair of the Volusia County Democratic Party. What we are putting together is a team effort of enormous scope. Volusia has been left behind in so many ways, and our neighbors to the north in Flagler too. Cost of living is high, people struggle to get by and often end up having to leave due to lack of opportunity. We need to get more federal dollars flowing in by expanding Medicaid, and we need to push for jobs, industries, laws, and policies that help the people at large instead of a select few. You can expect that our local elected officials will be feeling that pressure under my tenure.


Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

I’m half Chinese, my mother having escaped Communist China after the Tiananmen Square massacre. I was born at Halifax Hospital in Daytona Beach and before you ask, no, did not learn the language.

My wife Kristy and I have a son named Jonah, who is turning 2 on February 27th. He is our world!


New year’s statement from the Volusia County Democratic Party:

We know 2020 has been a terrible year for so many of us. The people of Volusia have lost their homes, their jobs, and their loved ones, and the long winter is not yet over. Here is to a brighter 2021. We are here fighting for you.

Here's to a Bright 2021 from Volusia Democrats

Endorsement of Ione Townsend for Florida Democratic Party Chair

Preface: On December 8th, 2020, I was elected to a 4-year term as Chair of the Volusia County Democratic Party and took office that evening. These past few weeks have been some of the busiest in my life. As Chair, I am tasked with working on behalf of the Florida Democratic Party to support and elect Democrats in Volusia County, one of the larger counties in Florida with 436,954 registered voters of which 144,154 are registered Democrats, six chartered Democratic clubs, 150 elected precinct chairs, and numerous caucuses. To these ends, it is vital that we have an experienced and effective progressive leader at the helm of the Florida Democratic Party. I have gotten to know Ms. Ione Townsend, Chair of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party, and believe she is our best choice. If you are a party elector, please vote for her at the Florida Democratic Party reorganizational meeting that will take place on Saturday, January 9th, 2021.


Saturday, December 26th, 2020

I am so impressed with Ione Townsend. She is exactly who we need to lead the Florida Democratic Party. Her success as Chair of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party is exactly what we hope to replicate here on the other end of the I-4 corridor in Volusia County. She is a grassroots organizing powerhouse, a selfless public servant, and running for precisely the right reasons. Determined, competent, and transparent are her key words and she delivers on these promises in spades. She is fierce and fearless, an accomplished equestrian, nurse practitioner, and progressive leader who will deliver winning results for Democrats throughout Florida.

This isn’t a game. This is life or death. Ione will listen and include all Democrats as stakeholders and as valued voices, not just in our highly populated blue counties but also in red, rural counties that have for too long been de-emphasized. We must get rid of DeSantis in 2022 and win down-ballot races by being visible community leaders. We must organize and show up everywhere, year-round — not just parachuting in people who can’t pronounce “Volusia” weeks before an election. Ione Townsend will help make the Florida Democratic Party transparent, inclusive, and efficiently coordinated with our local parties. Please vote Ione Townsend for FDP Chair.

Sincerely,
Dr. Richard Thripp
Chair of the Volusia County Democratic Party


Please also read Ms. Townsend’s endorsement from the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida and follow her on Twitter @Townsend4FDP.

I have also posted this to FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Instagram. Please share.

Florida Schools Should Be Mostly Online

Florida Schools Should Be Mostly Online

Monday, November 30, 2020

Dear reader,

Many of you may not be aware that Florida has long been a leader and pioneer in online learning with the founding of Florida Virtual School (FLVS) in 1997 and our continued focus on providing online learning opportunities to students of all ages. We are global leaders in e-learning, simulation, and remote technologies, home to the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) in Orlando as well as the Institute for Simulation and Training, the Center for Research in Education Simulation Technology (CREST), TeachLivE™, and more at the University of Central Florida, and the Florida High Tech Corridor cooperative with University of Florida and University of South Florida. We have even gone so far as to pass a state law requiring most high school students to take at least one virtual course!

Why, now, do we find ourselves hamstrung during an unprecedented pandemic that should be Florida’s time to shine—a unique opportunity to demonstrate our expertise in remote instruction and e-learning from our homes, while preventing community spread of a deadly virus which repeatedly and indubitably spreads in our schools? We have an estimated 21,596,068 residents as of this year, and already 18,441 have died of COVID-19—over six times the deaths that occurred in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That’s one of every 1,171 Floridians who have perished.

These are not just meaningless numbers. Even a small city like New Smyrna Beach has lost 24 souls at this rate, and the worst may in fact lie ahead of us. Sources tell me that nine out of 10 schools in Volusia County have had a COVID-19 infection, and in my four weeks as a Social Studies Core Teacher at New Smyrna Beach High School, I have seen numerous students and administrators quarantined for potential exposure, as well as accounts from students who have recovered from COVID-19 that it was the sickest they have ever felt. There are reports that two paraprofessional educators in Volusia County have died of COVID-19, although these are discussed anonymously and in hushed voices for fear of reprisal—an unfortunate sentiment given that transparency is essential toward combating this crisis.

I have heard my fellow citizens explain that their children must be in school in order for them to work at their jobs and make ends meet. This is a legitimate concern, and is a reason I have advocated for comprehensive federal relief directed chiefly to the American people at large. This pandemic is on track to exceed the 420,000 total deaths our nation endured in World War II, in less than one-fourth of the time. We must not give up, nor consign ourselves to accepting the ongoing conflagration while waving the white flag of surrender on the basis of inevitability and small-minded group think. The importance of learning in a face-to-face, in-person setting is overwhelmingly superseded by the importance of not dying and not causing others to die—deaths which are senseless, preventable, and presently occurring, and should not be permitted to continue to occur.

While waiting for federal relief, we must take decisive action at the state, district, and school levels. My friend on the Volusia County School Board tells me that Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran is calling the shots. Well, Mr. Corcoran, where are you? You pride yourself as a public servant, a husband and father to six, and the son of World War II veterans. You say you are a “passionate advocate for improving the education system in Florida” who “fully believes every child can learn and that all children deserve the opportunity to receive a world-class education.” There is a mountain of evidence emerging of the benefits of masking and of avoiding prolonged exposure in indoor spaces to people from outside one’s household. We haven’t even begun to educate our teachers on the science of COVID-19 epidemiology—some of my colleagues believe it is safe to put students in a “mask-free zone” of the classroom with desks precisely six feet apart, and our students and staff regularly flout masking and social distancing guidelines. It is quite difficult to provide a world-class education to a dead child, and furthermore it is best that their siblings, parents, grandparents, extended family, and teachers remain among the living.

As a co-editor of the 2019 academic anthology, Handbook of Research on Emerging Practices and Methods for K–12 Online and Blended Learning, I saw that many states, universities, and school districts across the United States are implementing blended and fully online learning with positive results. Consistency, training, administrative support, instructional design and planning, and ample technology and funding are key to successful e-learning initiatives. Unfortunately, we haven’t done well with these in Florida in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This needs to change. Although it is impossible to deliver a perfect solution on short notice, we just need something workable. Teachers should not be having to simultaneously broadcast to students at home—in fact teaching fully online would be more sensible. We should also be drawing on the expertise and technological resources of our public institutions including Florida Virtual School and the Center for Distributed Learning at University of Central Florida.

Presently, Volusia County schools are going back in-session for 3 weeks, which will undoubtedly be deadly for some and hazardous for many. Then, we have a winter break in excess of two weeks. Most districts follow a similar schedule. The rest of the school year should be fully or mostly online. Florida is about to surpass one million COVID-19 infections. Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel with three promising vaccines on the horizon, but in the interim the suffering and deaths of my fellow Floridians is only intensifying. Recent, large-scale research shows that children are super spreaders of coronavirus. There is value in even occasional in-person instruction, but do it outdoors on a cool day, or at 20% capacity for the teachers, students, and parents who want it. Right now, we are sending previously online students back to school. I have 111 students and 105 of them are face-to-face. We already have blood on our hands. We should not seek to fully drench ourselves in blood.

During my Education PhD coursework at the University of Central Florida, I specialized in instructional design, teaching over 300 future teachers about educational technology in blended and fully online settings, working on e-learning projects at national, interdisciplinary, local, and collaborative levels, and working alongside in-service educators and administrators in doctoral courses. Some were assistant principals for schools who funded satellite Internet connections via USB dongles for students to work from home, on their school-provided laptops, in households that did not have reliable Internet connections (Spectrum cable Internet has now gone up to $69.99 per month here). We can provide remote instruction even for disadvantaged and marginalized students with the proper technology and funding. When there’s a hurricane, why is it that we are able to mobilize massive evacuations, cancel school, cancel football games, and suspend tolls on toll roads, for a disaster that kills so few people in comparison? Let’s give coronavirus the hurricane treatment.

Veteran teachers are retiring specifically because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are being forced to make a choice: Your money or your life? I started as a Social Studies Core Teacher at New Smyrna Beach High School on October 26, 2020 because the prior teacher resigned mid-year after more than two decades of service. My dissertation was on the Florida Retirement System. She and other teachers are giving up well over $100,000 each, because to receive a full pension you must work 30 years or wait until age 62. Although making way for new teachers is nice, and new teachers are much cheaper thanks to a decimation of retirement benefits orchestrated by the Florida legislature in 2011, the circumstances under which we are doing so are abhorrent. Our schools are in widespread upheaval, and it is clear that the teaching and learning that is occurring is severely diminished. Our classes are being disrupted with standardized testing make-ups and levels of truancy that are unprecedented in recent memory. We are losing veteran educators and bleeding institutional knowledge. Various people are haphazardly being confined to quarantine, and our teaching schedules continue to morph like Jell-O. At this point, it is clear to all who judiciously weigh the totality of the situation that Florida schools should turn to remote learning for the remainder of the 2020–2021 school year.

Sincerely,
Dr. Richard Thripp
Social Studies Core Teacher
New Smyrna Beach High School