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Friday, August 28, 2009

Blame math problem on administrators

(Updated Oct. 2, 2009)

During the Aug. 26 board meeting for Spokane Public Schools, Razak Garoui, director of Assessment and Program Evaluation, blamed new legislation for the district’s abysmal math test scores. (According to a previous news report, he also said scores were low because students didn’t take the test seriously.)

Listening to Dr. Garoui, I was reminded of a song that was NOT sung by Milli Vanilli. “Blame It On the Rain” was a major hit for Milli Vanilli late in 1989, just before news broke that the duo was only pretending to sing. While suffering through the pretense of Dr. Garoui’s Aug. 26 presentation, I recalled the chorus of “Blame It On the Rain”:

“Gotta blame it on something
Blame it on the rain (rain)
Blame it on the stars (stars)
Whatever you do don't put the blame on you
Blame it on the rain yeah yeah
You can blame it on the rain”

I became annoyed with Dr. Garoui and Milli Vanilli. As a diversion, I found and began to read the August 2009 issue of the district’s newsletter “School Talk.” The issue contains an article titled “It All Adds Up To Math.” In this article:

  • A Shadle Park high school teacher says, “I’m impressed by the students’ depth of understanding, and their ability to communicate mathematical ideas.”
    (Shadle’s pass rate for the 10th-grade math test in 2009 was 47.4%.)
  • A Ridgeview Elementary School teacher says, “Kids are able to apply concepts seamlessly in different contexts. They are excited about math now.”
    (Ridgeview’s pass rates for the 3rd-6th-grade math tests were 62.1%, 56.3%, 58.2% and 43.5%).
  • A Chase Middle School teacher says, “The curriculum does a good job of pushing kids to discover their own understanding. And it also allows time to practice skills and algorithms.”
  • (Chase’s pass rates for the 7th-8th-grade math tests were 52.8% and 55.6%).
  • The article says: “Student scores on statewide assessments are, in some cases, showing improvement. However, there are still students not achieving at the level necessary to demonstrate mastery of standards."
    (No kidding. Nowhere in this happy article is the fact that in 2009, Spokane Public Schools' 10th-grade math WASL pass rate was just 42.3%.)

Following Dr. Garoui’s comments, board member Dr. Jeff Bierman, a physics professor at Gonzaga, commented on the “abysmal” WASL results for mathematics and on the “almost deceitful” district representation of student achievement. That’s when Superintendent Nancy Stowell blamed the low test scores on the teachers. She said the math problem isn’t just about curriculum; it’s about the quality of teaching. She added, “And we have a real problem in this district” with quality teaching.

Wow. Really? That’s probably news to Spokane teachers. The Garoui/Stowell comments are unsupported by evidence. They actually stand in direct opposition to the flood of available evidence on Spokane’s execrable math curricula. After everything she’s heard – over several years and from parents, teachers and advocates – after all of the research and reports she’s received – Dr. Stowell prefers to just blame the teachers.

“Gotta blame it on something
Blame it on the rain that was falling, falling
Blame it on the stars that did shine at night
Whatever you do don't put the blame on you
Blame it on the rain yeah yeah”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard Dr. Stowell blame the teachers. In a 2008 interview, I told her some teachers believe they’ve been disciplined for voicing their concerns, and she said that didn’t surprise her. The district has “a wide variety of teachers out there,” she said, “some of them very, very successful; and some less successful. And so, you know, people have issues along that continuum.” Some teachers just don’t like change, she added – somewhat hypocritically, I thought, considering that, as a whole, she and her fellow administrators seem completely adverse to effective change. These administrators are a nearly immoveable force – stain-resistant, impermeable, opaque and impervious. They’re like a black hole, sucking in all available taxpayer money and emitting no Light At the End of the Tunnel.

Teachers, however, are forced to change. They either change in response to every administrative whim, or they’re forced out. Afraid to voice their concerns, many teachers become silent and submissive. And yet – while doing exactly as they’re told – teachers are still blamed for low test scores.

“We have a real problem” with quality teaching, Dr. Stowell says.

Jim Harrison, 6th-grade teacher at Balboa Elementary School, was neither silent nor submissive. He fought a long and almost solitary fight for better mathematics instruction in Spokane. Parents and students are fond of him. They look up to him and believe he gave them his best. Last spring, Jim’s principal, Pat Lynass, broke WASL testing protocol in Jim’s class in several ways. A district spokesperson said Ms. Lynass will not be disciplined for these infractions. Jim’s class, however, was labeled a “problem.” This year, Jim is on a leave of absence. Next year, he retires.

“You got to blame it on something
(Blame it on the rain)
(Blame it on the stars)
Whatever you do don't put the blame on you”

Teachers, parents and students tend to be blamed because they have little voice. Even as Dr. Stowell and her curriculum coordinators say publicly that no one knows how to solve the math problem – that “no one has a silver bullet” – they refuse to listen to the people who DO know how to solve the math problem.

People all over the world HAVE solved the math problem, just by teaching it properly. That’s all it takes. They teach it. They don’t blame teachers, students, legislators, a fake lack of money, new standards, student hormones, parents, society, or students’ alleged bad attitude. They don’t ask students to learn mathematics by cutting out paper dolls, playing with molding clay and straws, or counting bird calls. They don’t expect children to teach math to each other or to themselves. Recognizing that it’s silly to teach mathematics by not teaching it, people all over the world just get up there and teach it – effectively, efficiently, with little fanfare but with superior results.

In Spokane, it would be refreshing to hear administrators say, “We’ve really screwed this up. We don’t have a problem with quality teaching; what we have here is a failure in administration. We should all leave right now, give up our pay, our bonuses, our travel allowances and our fancy offices. We stink. We should give back several years of pay. In fact, we should pay the students for what we’ve done to them.”

But I doubt we’ll ever hear anything from Spokane administrators acknowledging their responsibility for the mess that is K-12 math instruction. It’s time board members took Dr. Stowell to task. She and some of her employees have said that no one knows how to solve the math problem. This is both arrogant and incorrect. A positive step toward fixing the math problem in Spokane would be for Nancy Stowell, the math curriculum coordinators, their supervisors – and sure, while we’re at it, Razak Garoui – to resign.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:Rogers, L. (August, 2009). "Blame math problem on administrators." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

This article was published Aug. 31, 2009, on, at:

Friday, August 21, 2009

FACT: SPS looks bad in testing violations

(Updated Aug. 28, 2009)

In the spring of 2009, Madison Chapman was a student in Jim Harrison's 6th-grade class at Balboa Elementary School, Spokane, WA. During the administration of the state standardized test (the WASL), Pat Lynass, principal of Balboa Elementary, violated WASL protocol by interfering with the secure administration of the test. (This is not in dispute.) Since then, Spokane Public Schools (SPS) administrators have gone on the record as saying that the principal will not be disciplined for these violations, but that Jim Harrison's class is a "problem." (Mr. Harrison has been vocal in the past about Spokane's poor mathematics curricula.)

On Aug. 12, Madison's father, Hal Chapman, spoke to the school board. Before his allotted five minutes were up, the school board president interrupted Mr. Chapman to tell him his time was running out and to ask him to summarize. The president said the state was looking at the issue and the district had to leave it with the state. Mr. Chapman said his goal was to deliver the facts to the school board and to the assembled people, and he asked the board for another minute so he could finish his presentation. After a brief discussion, the president agreed to give him another minute.

Following is the full text of Hal Chapman's presentation to the school board on August 12.

I would like to take this time to thank the board for giving me this opportunity to speak about events that led to an official bullying and harassment complaint form being filed on behalf of Madison Chapman, 6th grader at Balboa Elementary.

The District has made attempts to mask the reason Pat Lynass was proctor in Mr. Harrison's class. I am here today to make the FACTS very clear to everyone.

Fact: On April 16th, Pat Lynass, while alone, thumbed through finished WASL tests in the privacy of her own office. Fact: That is a violation of WASL rules and protocol.

While thumbing through those tests, Pat Lynass came across a few students whom she felt could have made a better effort to answer questions that would be more favorable to the school and the district.

Fact: Pat Lynass had 5 days from April 16th to April 21st to come to the teacher, the students, or their parents and discuss what she found. She chose not to.

On April 21st, just before the test was about to begin, Pat Lynass excused the original proctor and assumed the duties of proctor in that classroom for the day. Within minutes after the test began, Pat Lynass made her way to Madison Chapman and leaned down and told her that if she didn't do well on this portion of the WASL exam she would NOT be able to get into an advanced placement math class at Salk Middle School next year -- A BOLD-FACED LIE.

Fact: This is against WASL protocol. Trying to influence a child into getting answers that are more favorable to the school and the district is considered cheating and is a VERY serious violation.

Fact: WASL test scores for incoming 7th graders are NOT utilized to prevent students from accessing the honors program.

The fact that Pat Lynass had information on the 16th and decided to use that information 5 days later to harass/bully and manipulate a 12-year-old child is VERY disturbing. To have the district condone this behavior by a principal would validate suspicions that these violations are tolerated and accepted as a means to manipulate scores in favor of the school and the district.

Fact: The teacher Mr. Harrison excused Madison to use the bathroom after Pat Lynass had humiliated her and she began to cry. Pat Lynass proceeded to follow Madison into the bathroom and closed the door behind her. She then continued to badger Maddi until she no longer wanted to go back into the classroom to finish the test.

Fact: Pat Lynass as the proctor has an obligation to provide a quiet testing atmosphere and remain in that classroom to proctor, and AGAIN failed to follow protocol.

Fact: Pat Lynass told me she did this because the district failed to meet its AYP for having low test scores, and she had to make sure the district wouldn't fall short of expectations again this year because federal funding was riding on these tests.

Fact: Pat Lynass went over to another student’s test that was finished and lying faced down. Pat Lynass picked up that test. thumbed through it, pointed to an unfinished portion, placed it back in front of the student and told him he needed to finish this test.

Fact: This is another blatant disregard for the rules governing the test. Again -- trying to influence a child into getting answers that favor the school and the district is cheating and AGAIN, I (along with the surrounding parents and taxpayers in Spokane Public School boundaries) are wondering WHY the principal is NOT going to be held accountable for her actions, AND WHY does the district condone this kind of behavior ???

Fact: The district has targeted Mr. Harrison and, on the Channel 4 KXLY 6 o'clock News, has accused him of being a problem teacher.

The district insists that because of the number of people who opted out of the WASL the year prior, Pat Lynass needed to be in Mr. Harrison's classroom on April 21st.

Fact: A parent’s choice to opt a student out of testing is NOT a violation.

Fact: What Pat Lynass has managed to pull off is definitely a series of serious violations.

Fact: I have the original proctor schedule in my possession and Pat Lynass is not on there at all to assume the proctor duties in Mr. Harrison's classroom. If the district felt the need to have Pat observe Mr. Harrison's classroom for something that happened a year ago, the schedule would reflect that.

Fact: It's time the district stops condoning and tolerating this kind of behavior, and ... it's time the district is held accountable for continuing to protect a principal named Pat Lynass who has become a liability. Board members, I hope you are finding this interesting. As you are a publicly elected, volunteer board, ultimately responsible to the community for the successful implementation of the school district’s mission, I have to ask: What exactly was District 81's mission on and after the 21st of April and do you stand behind that mission?

I would like to refer to Ivan Bush’s investigation findings in the bullying report. The investigation did substantiate that Mrs. Lynass's interactions with Madison during testing – and after Madison was released from testing – caused embarrassment and humiliation for her.

I am disgusted that District 81 continues to cover up the real issue, refuses to hold Pat Lynass accountable for her actions, has yet to offer any kind of apology, and worst of all continues to publicly badmouth the best thing Balboa has going for it -- their 6th-grade teacher Mr. Harrison.

I would ask that the board please respond. Thank you.

Hal Chapman