The Mid-county Memo is your newspaper. We want to hear from you. Discuss an important issue or address a concern you want to call to the attention of the community. Letters to the editor are edited for space, buy style, grammar and issues of clarity. We prefer emailed letters to the editor sent to Darlene Vinson at editor@midcountymemo.com. Please put “Letter to the editor” in the subject line. You may also mail your letter to 3510 N.E. 134th Ave., Portland, OR 97230 or fax it to 503-249-7672. Deadline for the January issue is Monday, Dec. 15.

 

Are High-Stakes tests worth the cost?

To the Editor:

I am a resident of Mid-county and a strong supporter of our public schools.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC, the *high-stakes test mandated by the State of Oregon, is having a negative impact on our students, teachers and administrators directly, and in turn, our community-at-large. High-stakes testing does not support the academic success of all students.

We cannot afford SBAC for a number of good reasons. How can the state justify the $4.5 million that SBAC cost above the previous year’s Oregon’s Assessments of Knowledge and Skills, or OAKS test?

**The David Douglas School District lost 35 staff positions during the first two years of the great recession. This year, the district has been able to add back six positions, which still leaves a deficit of 29. The student population continues to grow and therefore class sizes have been increasing.

Class size reduction is an effective reform with research showing achievement gains, higher graduation rates, more student engagement and lower disciplinary rates. High-stakes testing has no backing in research or experience. In fact, the National Academy of Sciences has issued two reports showing no evidence high-stakes testing improves schools and may have damaging effects. The additional cost of SBAC could have been used to restore staffing levels and/or fund other positive reform measures, such as universal preschools.

Oregon has one of the shortest school years in the nation averaging 165 days. That is three weeks less than the national average. SBAC is requiring a significant increase in student testing time. David Douglas High School will be in test mode for approximately six weeks at the end of the school year for 11th graders. The loss of student time on task in their regular coursework and the disruption of the classes being taught are costs that are not justifiable.

These high-stakes tests are also used in the evaluation of our teachers. Value-Added Modeling has been discredited in a number of studies. Teacher evaluations tied to unreliable test scores cause good teachers to become demoralized and/or lose their jobs.

I foresee an erosion of trust between teacher, principals and parents especially after the projected 60-percent-plus failure rate on the SBAC is released. Highly successful collaborative programs, such as the one highlighted in the article “Alice Ott Middle School Finding a Way” in the May 2014 issue of “Principal Leadership,” a National Association of Secondary School Principals publication, will be in jeopardy as false negatives from the high-stakes testing erodes the trust needed for successful school reforms.

High-stakes tests hurt at-risk students most. These flawed tests label schools and teachers as failing where there is the highest concentration of need, unfairly causing these schools to face possible closure or teachers fired, leading to massive dislocation and soaring dropout rates.

High-stakes tests modify our schools’ curriculum. What is tested is taught. At David Douglas High School, the PACE class has been cut in half and job shadowing eliminated. Digital literacy has been added. I ask “Why? Is this due to High-stakes testing? Are we seeing a reduction in the local control over what is being taught in our schools?”

Our public schools can be made better. There are ways to improve schools without undermining the essential concept of a system of public schooling. In the process of reform, we must remember that Americans developed public schools to unify our nation and to provide for the common good. If we proceed with the high-stakes testing and the misuse of the data obtained from these flawed instruments of mass destruction, then we may lose the very features of public schooling that our early leaders believed were necessary to form a strong, cohesive and just nation.

What can be done about this unacceptable situation?

We urge you to get involved, get informed and tell your school boards and legislators you want positive school reform that helps, not harms students and their teachers. Join support groups, such as Oregon Save Our Schools, United Church of Christ Justice and Witness ministries and/or Parents Across America. These organizations are good sources of facts on what damage the current reforms are doing to our precious public schools. There are also suggested forms of direct action that committed citizens can use to push for positive reforms in our public schools.

Remember, the only political influence more powerful than money is “We the people.” We can organize and demand positive school reforms from our leaders at the state and federal levels. We need to educate, cultivate and agitate before it is too late.

Pat and Jan Eck

Angry Grandparents Against High-Stakes Testing

Mill Park residents

pauleck@q.com

*According to the Glossary of Education Reform website, a high-stakes test is any test used to make important decisions about students, educators, schools or districts, most commonly for the purpose of accountability—i.e., the attempt by federal, state, or local government agencies and school administrators to ensure that students are enrolled in effective schools and being taught by effective teachers. In general, “High Stakes” means test scores are used to determine punishments (such as sanctions, penalties, funding reductions, negative publicity), accolades (awards, public celebration, positive publicity), advancement (grade promotion or graduation for students), or compensation (salary increases or bonuses for administrators and teachers).

**According to David Douglas School District Spokesman Dan McCue, the district cut some 130 teachers, five administrative positions and the equivalent of 40 classified or support staff since 2008. Most of the classified reductions were in the form of reduced hours.

McCue said over the past two years (2013-15) that the district added back approximately 40 FTE, or full-time equivalent certified positions, four administrative positions, and roughly 30 classified support staff employees. To the assertion David Douglas High School will be “in test mode” for six weeks, McCue said that is a bit misleading. The testing window is the last six weeks of the school year for high school; the time frame during which students are allowed to be given the test. The available testing window for elementary and middle school students is 12 weeks. During that window of time, the amount of time students are actually testing is seven hours for elementary, seven and a half for middle, and eight and a half hours for 11th graders, spread out over time during the testing windows.

 

Zone changes degrade Argay Terrace neighborhood

To the Editor:

Portland is currently in the second phase of its revision of the citywide 2035 Comprehensive Plan. It’s not new zoning for the city; however, the plan serves as the general road map city planners follow over the next 20 years when making decisions on zone changes and new land uses.

While its adoption scheduled for early 2016 does not automatically change zoning, many new zone changes are planned to follow almost immediately and new development could take place soon after. Current zoning in the Argay Terrace neighborhood has effectively eliminated new single-family development for more than three decades and encouraged the development of non-family-oriented multifamily housing. The proposed land use changes under the revised Comprehensive Plan could make that situation much worse by adding sites for offices and light industrial uses to our neighborhood.

We have to make sure this does not happen.

As it stands now, Argay Terrace has a problem. With more than 43 percent of households in multifamily developments—many older and high density—and with more apartments on the way, Argay is losing its original purpose as a family-friendly neighborhood. There is a citywide need for new single-family homes on family sized lots, typically 5,000 sq. ft. lots under an R5 zoning designation, the most common designation and development pattern in the city.

Argay Terrace itself was planned as an even lower density, low-traffic alternative to the older inner-city single-family neighborhoods of southeast and northeast Portland. It followed an R-7 classification, which requires building lots of at least 7,000 square feet. The problem is, for more than 30 years all remaining developable land for homes is zoned R-3, a classification that does allow row houses and small homes on small lots, but, due to cost factors, is almost always developed with multi-family apartments.

With a the new 16-acre Beech Park between Northeast 126th and 131st avenues developing in 2016, and short walking distances to good quality K-12 schools, the land that someday should be developed with family friendly single-family homes on family-sized lots is currently slated for multifamily or “Mixed Employment” zoning. This translates to office buildings, service facilities, food processing, light manufacturing and other “flex space,” or industrial park development to three stories in height. However you define it, and whatever you call it, this is not the neighbor you want living over your back fence, and is certainly not family-friendly development that improves our neighborhood, our quality of daily life, and supports the original and continuing purpose of this neighborhood. Under the new plan, several areas remain unchanged, primarily those areas already developed with homes, apartments and commercial properties. The commercial strip along Northeast 122nd Avenue is actually reduced in depth if the changes proposed by the Argay Neighborhood Association and the city are allowed. Due to the location and current commercial use of the Kmart site, the proposed land use for that site makes good sense for that property and would have little if any impact on the neighborhood.

The Argay Neighborhood Association has developed a detailed written response to the intended changes and has submitted that response to the city of Portland as part of the city’s open comment period. At the core of that response is a request to re-zone all R3 areas to R5 and to replace the proposed Mixed Employment areas (#287, #288, #289, and #290 on the map) to R5. City planners have looked carefully at the southeast corner of the neighborhood, south of Northeast Milton Street and want to reclassify that area as R5 single family residential; too late to prevent current apartment development in the area, but still a welcome realization that our neighborhood needs more single-family housing.

Planners face a difficult challenge developing the new Comprehensive Plan. At once, they are required to find new land for commercial development and industrial employment, but, at the same time, the plan calls for them to respect the character of existing neighborhoods, the development patterns of those neighborhoods, their unique character, and to make sure the new planned development enhances all of those factors. In addition, three of the six basic goals of the city are to “Ensure a safe and peaceful community; improve the quality of life in neighborhoods; and protect and enhance the natural and built environment.”

The changes planned for Argay Terrace under the current revision of the Comprehensive Plan, and the failure to change current zoning to support family-sized homes on family-sized lots results in a plan that fails to meet those goals. The planners looked at Argay and saw open areas that remain in farm use as locations for the new employment opportunities that the city currently stresses. What they fail to see is most of those same areas offer unique opportunities to help correct the equally critical need for more single-family homes on family sized lots. Families living in homes they own reduces turnover, builds stronger community ties, and weaves a tighter relationship between neighbors, the schools their children attend, and parks families enjoy; the fabric that builds a strong and improving neighborhood.

We want that future for Argay Terrace.

To review the plan maps and read the zoning descriptions, visit www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/65337. Send email comments to: psc@portlandoregon.gov. Put “Comprehensive Plan Testimony” in the subject line and include your name and mailing address to allow verification you are a Portland resident. Send comments by regular mail to: Planning and Sustainability Bureau; 1900 S.W. 4th Ave., Portland, OR 97201-5380.

Al Brown

Argay Neighborhood Association Board Member