In April, students at Castle Park Middle School in Chula Vista might have been relieved to know they didn’t have to take the annual tests required by the state if they did not want to.

In fact, their own teacher, Kevin Beiser, encouraged them not to.

Beiser, who also serves on the San Diego Unified School Board, sent a note to students and parents days before the class was set to test. In a comment he posted to an online system that allows teachers to communicate with parents and students, Beiser wrote:

“Parents have the right to Opt their children out of the Federally Mandated State Testing. Teachers and parents strongly recommend that parents exercise this right.

As a teacher, I encourage parents to Opt their children out of state testing which begins on Monday, April 11. There are several reasons why tests are bad for children, in my opinion.”

Beiser cannot legally say this. State Education code says it’s OK for teachers to inform parents of their right to opt their children out of tests, but that the school district and its employees “shall not solicit and encourage” them to make that choice.

Even the California Teachers Association, an affiliate of the union to which Beiser belongs, urges educators to tread carefully on this point.

In a know-your-rights guide, CTA writes that teachers are free to express their views about education in public forums and newspaper columns, or when they’re speaking as a citizen. But, “when a public employee makes a statement because their official duties require them to do so, they are speaking as an employee, not as a citizen. Public school employers are permitted to discipline employees for such employment-related speech.”


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Days after Beiser wrote the note to parents, the school’s principal, Gina Galvez-Mallari, sent a letter home to parents walking back Beiser’s comments:

“You may have received an email from a staff member or your student may have been influenced by a staff member’s recommendation regarding your decision to test. Please know that it is not our intent to influence your student testing participation decision one way or the other and any emails you feel do that, should be disregarded.”

Sweetwater Union High School District spokesman Manny Rubio confirmed the notes.

Rubio said the letter Galvez-Mallari sent parents summarizes the district’s policy on the issue: Teachers can inform parents of their rights, but should not try to influence families one way or another.

Rubio couldn’t say whether Beiser faces any sanctions. Discipline in matters like these is handled case by case, he said.

Beiser did not respond to requests for comment. He wrote the note in his role as a teacher, not as a San Diego Unified school board member.

But San Diego Unified leaders, too, have taken an increasingly skeptical view of standardized tests.

Superintendent Cindy Marten recently announced that district would be cutting back on tests so teachers could waste less time testing and spend more on instruction.

The San Diego Union-Tribune had two other examples of the district’s aversion to testing under Marten: “At the start of the last spring testing window, Marten sent a letter parents that all but apologized for the tests. In February of last year, the San Diego school board adopted a resolution calling on Congress and the Obama administration to eliminate federally mandated testing requirements for third- through ninth-graders.”

It’s a local window into a larger debate that’s being hashed out in school districts nationally.

Originally, the opt-out movement was associated with white, middle-class families. But over the past year, the base of groups opposed to testing has grown more diverse, according to the New York Times.

Parents and educators oppose testing for a number of reasons, ranging from resistance to the possibility of sanctions imposed on teachers and schools to skepticism of profiteering by testing companies.

Yet, groups that want to preserve testing – including the NAACP, National Council of La Raza and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund – argue that standardized testing reveals disparities that exist between students.

Last year, civil rights groups wrote in a joint statement: “There are some legitimate concerns about testing in schools that must be addressed … But we cannot fix what we cannot measure. And abolishing the tests or sabotaging the validity of their results only makes it harder to identify and fix the deep-seated problems in our schools.”

    This article relates to: Education, School Leadership

    Written by Mario Koran

    Mario is an investigative reporter focused on immigration, border and related criminal justice issues. Reach him directly at 619.325.0531, or by email: mario@vosd.org.

    17 comments
    obboy13
    obboy13 subscriber

    Props Mario.  Marne Foster may be gone, but as long as we elect folks like Mr. Beiser to the Board of Education, you'll never lack for stories.  # Lifetime job security. 

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    The real story here is the Promise Neighborhood Institute, which gave a $60 million grant to Castle Park neighborhood and schools in December 2012. So what do you get for $60,000.000.00? It's anyone's guess. Promise Neighborhoods conceals Castle Park results.

    What improvements in student performance have been seen since the money started being spent in early 2013?  Strangely, Promise Neighborhoods took credit for improvements in the spring 2013 test scores at Castle Park Middle School though some think that the new principal, not Promise Neighborhood, deserved credit for the student progress.
    But I'd be willing to give Promise Neighborhoods some of the credit if test scores had gone up again in spring 2014.  But strangely, Promise Neighborhoods is silent about those scores.
    In fact, Promise Neighborhoods doesn't seem to want people to see its own June 2013 article by Samuel Sinyangwe announcing the spring 2013 scores.

    Promise Institute took down its original website, but the article was concealed even before the website went dark, and it is also missing from the new website. Here's all the information that the new website is giving about Castle Park: http://www.promiseneighborhoodsinstitute.org/sites/default/files/PNI_chula vista_070615_b.pdf

    If a $60 million grant isn't working, shouldn't Promise Neighborhoods be honest about it?  Who is gaining from their secrecy? Are they afraid that competent people might be brought in to replace the folks who are spending large sums of money?

    Why are some schools so afraid of test results? Because they don't know how to improve them! For many, of not most, teachers, test preparation is just a bunch of boring worksheets, not fun lessons on logic and concepts.

    Richard del Rio
    Richard del Rio subscriber

    It is interesting that a math teacher would declare a state test of skills and knowledge to be undesirable. Could he please explain what the specific test does that distorts his instructional priorities? The reader might ask is this an aversion to accountability instead of a serious critique of a test?  How can you develop better policy and spending for education without data? That a federal law mandates a state accountability program is largely a red herring. Too many are using it as a form of political pandering. He knew it was against the rules to advocate such a course of action, but did not have the courage to state his "several reasons." Imagine the happy state of affairs that would result when SDUSD teachers who are bound by his board's policy mandates ignore the directives in favor of their several reasons. 

    Dennis
    Dennis subscriber

    Good for him. These state tests do nothing other than line the pockets of the test makers, attempts to label poor schools as failing so they can be privatized and does almost nothing to inform parents on how their children stand. Last year, we didn't receive our son's test results until 6 months had past. 6 months! And the info was so vague. What a colossal waste of time and money that adds an immense amount of undue stress on students, teachers and schools!!!!

    philip piel
    philip piel subscriber

    @Dennis

    Not to mention the stress teachers face when their Union can't protect them from having their performance measured...imagine the stress these kids will have when they enter the job market, employers expecting results, the horror!

    Dennis
    Dennis subscriber

    @philip piel @Dennis Philip, show us any evidence that these tests are valid measures of teacher performance. All bunk! I'll take a teacher that inspires students to learn miles before a teacher that has students ace these crap tests.

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    @Dennis  Do you have some reason to believe that kids with inspiring teachers are unable to ace these "crap" tests?

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    I'm glad you asked. Yes, I was an inspiring teacher, and I prepared kids for tests with fun lessons on concepts and logic. My students were not bored. They loved taking tests, and they did exceptionally well.  I tutored some of them through high school and college. I was removed because two teachers said they thought I would kill them. You are welcome to read the depositions of those two teachers. They could not come up with any rational reason for their actions, and one of them completely changed her testimony when I asked if she would agree to produce her phone records. You can also read my own 6-hour deposition by Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz. Here's a quick summary of what happened: http://www.mauralarkins.com/jhtestimony.html

    Chula Vista Elementary School District realized that it had made a big mistake in giving so much power to a clique of power-hungry teachers at Castle Park Elementary who chewed up and spit out eleven principals in eleven years as well as forcing out several excellent teachers. Four years after I left, the school had deteriorated so much that five problem teachers were transferred out.

    Dennnis Doyle, an assistant superintendent at Chula Vista Elementary who was very much involved in illegal actions in my case, relied on a clique of teachers to guide his actions. You may know that he later suddenly cleared out of his office as superintendent of National School District with no reason given. I suspect he may have been involved in some behavior similar to his behavior at CVESD. The National Schools board reported that he never gave them a head's up that he was leaving in the middle of the school year.

    I notice that you and Dennis are both taking advantage of VOSD's new policy of allowing anonymous comments. 

    I'd also like to ask you a question, Kathy. Do you have some reason to believe that kids with inspiring teachers are unable to ace these "crap" tests?

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    @Kathy S @Maura Larkins @Dennis 

    Four hours ago I responded to your comment but VOSD removed my response while leaving your intriguing question.  I’ll try again. Let’s see if this post stays us a little longer. Your question certainly calls for a response, and the public deserves the opportunity to hear the answer. Right, Scott?

    I'm glad you asked me your question. Yes, I was an inspiring teacher, and I prepared kids for tests with fun lessons on concepts and logic. My students were not bored. They loved taking tests, and they did exceptionally well.  I tutored some of them through high school and college. I was removed because two teachers said they thought I would kill them. You are welcome to read the depositions of those two teachers. They could not come up with any rational reason for their actions, and one of them completely changed her testimony when I asked if she would agree to produce her phone records. You can also read my own 6-hour deposition by Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz. Here's a quick summary of what happened: http://www.mauralarkins.com/jhtestimony.html

    Chula Vista Elementary School District realized that it had made a big mistake in giving so much power to a clique of power-hungry teachers at Castle Park Elementary who chewed up and spit out eleven principals in eleven years, as well as forcing out several excellent teachers. Four years after I left, the school had deteriorated so much that five problem teachers were transferred out.

    Dennnis Doyle, an assistant superintendent at Chula Vista Elementary who was very much involved in my case, relied on a clique of teachers to guide his actions. You may know that he later suddenly cleared out of his office as superintendent of National School District with no reason given. I suspect he may have been involved in some behavior similar to his behavior at CVESD. The National Schools board reported that he never gave them a head's up that he was leaving in the middle of the school year.

    I notice that you and Dennis are both taking advantage of VOSD's new policy of allowing anonymous comments.

    I'd also like to ask you a question, Kathy. Do you have some reason to believe that kids with inspiring teachers are unable to ace these "crap" tests?

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    @Kathy S @Dennis

    In my case, the top officials at CVESD wanted to protect their secrets. They never produced any results of any investigation into the allegations against me. I was told to come back to work and to remain silent about what had happened. Why would they want me to come back if there were the slightest chance that the allegations might be true? The top administrators of CVESD committed either an egregious lapse in safety for children and employees, or a series of egregious violations of codes, laws and contract against me. 

    As can be seen in this document, I was fired for refusing to come back to work without an investigation. You might wonder why CTA didn't demand an investigation, instead allowing the district to violate the contract again and again. CTA plays school politics as the expense of children and the law.  It colludes frequently with school administrators.


    It appears that VOSD does not want to think about the enormous problem of  arbitrary and petty school administrators. A large number of administrators are more interested in their own careers than in student success, and are less competent than the average teacher in understanding how to teach kids.


    VOSD's top brass is wrong if it thinks it can improve education by working to give administrators more arbitrary power. Plenty of teachers know how to teach, but they are rarely the ones with influence in schools. We need an unbiased system to evaluate teachers, then we must use the most effective teachers to educate other teachers. These  master teachers should be paid a lot, but we could find that money easily by stopping the flow of enormous sums of taxpayer dollars to vendors who, decade after decade, offer the latest new plan that never works.


    Dennis
    Dennis subscriber

    @Maura Larkins @Kathy S @Dennis


    Maura, I sincerely apologize if anything I wrote led you to believe I am someone different than I am and I am truly sorry you had to go through that experience!!!


    I had and have no idea what goes on in the South Bay area. I am completely clueless about that region and always have been.


    I believe that no test can truly measure how inspiring a teacher is in class and would rather have an inspiring teacher that instilled a desire to learn in my children then one who taught my children to ace a stupid test that districts spend millions on when those resources could provide better learning opportunities, supplies and environments for my own children.


    Again, my apologies if my comments led you to believe I was someone who caused serious distress to you. I am most certainly not that person!!!!

    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    @Dennis @Maura Larkins @Kathy S 

    Hi Dennis. You still haven't answered my question. Let me ask again: do you have some reason to believe that kids with inspiring teachers are unable to ace these "crap" tests?

    Regarding another subject, you write, "I believe that no test can truly measure how inspiring a teacher is in class..." 

    How about a test that asks kids what they're excited about in school? Wouldn't that be a good measure?

    You write that you would "rather have an inspiring teacher that instilled a desire to learn in my children then one who taught my children to ace a stupid test." 

    It seems that your definition of an inspiring teacher is one whose students can't pass standardized tests.

    You seem to be saying that we have to make a choice between two separate groups of teachers. Why can't inspiring teachers also teach kids to pass tests?

    Reading comprehension, writing, listening, speaking and math and other subjects are fun to learn if they are taught well. An teacher who makes kids excited to learn is remiss if he or she does not also make sure they learn to think. It's easy to pass standardized tests if you know how to think. 

    Your comments are very generic. I did not conclude anything about your identity from your comments. In my posts above, I did not say you were Dennis Doyle. You don't need to keep saying you're not Dennis Doyle. 



    Maura Larkins
    Maura Larkins subscriber

    @Dennis @Kathy S 

    I'd like to say that I have admired every single reporter VOSD has ever hired. I wish the top brass at VOSD would give reporters more freedom. Also, I wish VOSD would stop allowing anonymous comments. VOSD seems to be returning to the bad old days when comments were shockingly vitriolic and off-topic, like Kathy S's comment that was deleted from this thread.


    SherryS
    SherryS subscriber

    As a parent, I want my child's teacher to be able to speak freely to me about what they, in their experience as a professional educator, believe to be in the interest of my child. The idea that he or she is restricted by state law from telling me what he/she believes in a professional matter is just as offensive to me as it would be if the state told physicians what they can and can't discuss with their patients.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    Is there anything that can be taught but not tested?

    Anniej
    Anniej subscriber

    With the understanding of the fact Public Schools are State and Federally funded - as a taxpayer I must ask 'where were the beurocrats when all of the testing began to be mandated - when teachers were being forced to teach to the test - prepare our children for the test?'.

    School has become ALL ABOUT THE TESTING - to hell with the individual talents of the teacher - to hell with the abilities of our educators to inspire our children to want to read, to want to learn.

    Surely it is apparent to ALL, education is pretty broken - just look at the test scores - (chuckle)

    Maybe, just maybe if we allowed those who have a passion to educate and inspire the freedom to do so - perhaps, we might just find the students are a great deal more educated than they 'test out'.

    Having said all of that - Rules are rules - Mr. Beiser should be held accountable for the choice HE MADE. One does not simply break a rule because it is not of their liking - surely he teaches his students about protocol and consequences. WE, as adults lead by example - what message does this send to students, parents, administrators and other teachers who do not happen to be a Board member in another District. While Ms. Marten may agree with him - allow me to remind you this is SWEETWATER territory. You do what you do there, and we will do what we do here!!!!! As a taxpayer in the SUHSD I question Mr. Beiser's decision making. If the compensation check he receives, as an educator, is good enough to deposit then the rules of the District should be followed - no matter who you are.

    *****my concern over Mr. Beiser's choice extends to anyone, any District who attempts to keep the parents option from them as well,

    anniejc j
    anniejc j

    @Kathy S @Anniej  With all due respect, I am not looking for 'his head on a stick'.  I am looking for rules to be followed.


    While I am a union supporter I am growing weary of persons taking advantage of their title and doing what they want when they want.  What would the consequences have been if an educator WITHOUT the title of Board Members had done the same thing?


    Please don't confuse the message I was attempting to make - as you can see by the ***** of my comment - I question Districts as well for attempting to squelch the right to opt out.