Sign the Testing Bill of Rights!

TestBetter-Promo1National PTA is pleased to join forces with the Center for American Progress (CAP), America Achieves and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), among others in support of the Testing Bill of Rights to ensure assessments are fair, reliable, relevant and aligned to high-quality standards.

The Testing Bill of Rights outlines the need to accurately measure student learning in a way that is useful for parents and teachers and less burdensome for students. As states continue to transition to higher standards and a new generation of high-quality tests come to fruition, more needs to be done at state and local levels to address over testing and provide greater transparency about the purpose and benefits of each test. No parent wants their child reduced to a test score, and assessment results should be used to inform instruction, provide parents and communities with information about whether students are working at grade level or are struggling, and allow teachers to diagnose and help their students. The launch of the Testing Bill of Rights is part of a campaign led by CAP to educate school leaders, students, teachers, and parents about the need for better, fairer and fewer tests.

National PTA understands the frustration that parents, students and educators have expressed regarding over testing. However, instead of walking away from assessments themselves, National PTA seeks to empower and engage parents in the important conversations around the amount and types of tests students take as well as advocate for parents to be at the table as these discussions occur at state and local levels. Parents are an important part of the solution to improve assessments, and we can’t walk away from this responsibility.

The association believes that in order to provide the most accurate information to parents, educators, schools, districts and states all students must participate in required state assessments. The information gathered from assessments helps to make sure all students and schools are receiving the necessary resources and supports in order to reach their full potential. Additionally, if we do not have full data sets, we won’t know if the assessments actually do what they are designed or purported to do.

National PTA has always believed that educational improvements and increased well-being for our nation’s children comes from engaged and empowered parents and families. The parent voice is critical in the discussion around educational equity. Parents must be part of the solution for fairer, better and fewer tests.

National PTA urges you to sign the Testing Bill of Rights to ensure students are taking high-quality and aligned assessments, parents have accurate information on their child’s progress and achievement and teachers have a tool that helps improve instruction.


Jacki Ball is the director of government affairs at National PTA.

How this Database Software Helped My District’s PTA

Denise photoMy name is Denise Baer, and I have been an involved PTA member for over 13 years. I have served on PTA executive boards in many capacities, including being elected PTA president twice. My town of Westport, Conn. has eight schools—five elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school. Each school’s PTA operates independently, but we work collaboratively through a town-wide PTA council.

A longstanding challenge in Westport was how to manage our student, parent and teacher directory. Each school used their own software such as Microsoft Excel, Word or some combination. None of these systems interacted with the school databases, and there was no easy way to track students graduating from one school to the next without a significant amount of work.

The PTA directory chair position was a time-consuming, difficult-to-fill job. Volunteers spent a tremendous amount of time collecting data and verifying its accuracy. Since the PTA directory only existed in printed form, PTA parent members had to buy multiple copies—one for home, one for the car and one for the office since it was only in print form. The other problem we kept running into was that since it wasn’t cost-efficient to print it frequently, the minute we’d gathered the information, verified it and then published the directory, it was out of date.

After many years of discussing the ongoing problems, we decided it was time to take action. I chaired a committee that investigated how we could provide parents with a more value-added, electronic product—a directory that was up to date, portable, easy to access, simple to use and identical regardless of the school your child attended.

We selected MobileArq as our vendor for several reasons:

  • It allowed parents to have a single log in that allowed access to school information for each child, even if they attended different schools
  • Ease of branding the look and feel of the directories and usability
  • Parent are able to pay for membership at multiple schools (i.e. elementary and middle and high school) with one transaction

We were also able to ask MobileArq to customize the directory and administration portal to incorporate the ability to make additional donations to PTA beyond membership fees and to have a choice of payment options, online and offline.

To ensure accuracy and completeness of the directory data, we got the permission and cooperation of our superintendent to provide us with select non-confidential district data. After extensive testing of the software and marketing of the mobile directory to the Westport parents, we went live. That was almost three years ago.

The transition from a paper to an electronic directory move was a big step for our parent PTA members, but after the initial adjustment period, they can’t imagine going back! As for the PTA executive boards, the once overwhelming position of PTA directory chair became a very simple, almost non-existent job. There are always bumps and bruises as you transition to a new system, but overall we’ve found the system to be a great leap forward!

Get MobileArq for simplifying your school directory and membership management process this year. For a preview of the MobileArq platform, please visit MobileArq.com or reach them at Support@mobilearq.com


Denise Baer has served as a leader in Westport PTA Council for over 13 years.

Take Your Family to School Week 2016: Rock Out with PTA

2016 TYFTSW Poster_FINAL-1Schools across the nation took part in our Rock n’ Roll theme as they participated in this year’s Take Your Family to School Week (TYFTSW). From Feb.15-19, 2016 National PTA invited families and schools to “Rock Out with PTA” and celebrate your student rock stars.

We love providing you with ideas for themed events to host. The PTA programs are to help enhance the engagement between parents, students and teachers. A few popular events during TYFTSW that resonated with you were Connect for Respect (C4R), student safety and supporting student success.

The main goal of National PTA’s Connect for Respect (C4R) Program is to prevent bullying both inside and outside of schools. C4R events connect parent and teachers and facilitates their working together to achieve that goal. Our student safety program can be conducted by using National PTA’s Safety Toolkit, which provides overall physical safety tips for children. Last but not least, let’s not forget supporting student success! Showcasing student accomplishments and marking any progress they have made can really boost children’s self-esteem and make them want to continue achieving great things. Hopefully, with the help of our great themed events, we can increase awareness of the importance of education, health and wellness and safety.

During this year’s #TYFTSW16, PTAs took our event ideas and made them their own. All throughout the week, schools engaged in various fun activities, from talent shows to lively science nights. All of the PTAs really out-did themselves this year!

A theme can add a creative twist to your event. It can help boost the engagement of your students and their parents. And that’s what made the events very creative. Barry Pathfinder PTA, located in Kansas City, Mo., had a Star Wars themed roller skating night and a 50s sock hop family drive-in movie night. Wow! In Raleigh, N.C., Centennial Campus Middle School PTSA had a pretty far-out week with their groovy-themed book fair. Now that’s neat!

These schools were able to address serious topics with their amazing, welcoming themes. Barry Pathfinder PTA’s focus was increasing parental engagement. To do so, in addition to their Star Wars and 50s sock hop events, they served a delicious breakfast to students and their parents and informed them of their children’s daily scholastic routine. Centennial Campus Middle School PTSA focused on anti-bullying, test taking and anxiety and online safety alongside their “groovy” book fair. With the assistance of N.C. House Representative Rosa Gill and NCPTA President Kelly Langston, their message came across loud and clear to both parents and students.

Nothing brings a community together better than dancing, food and music. Grafenwoehr Elementary School PTA, located in Grafenwoehr, Germany, had the right idea by having a Just Dance family dance-a-thon! Their main focus was health and wellness. With that much moving around, by end of the night everyone enjoyed themselves and felt energized. A jamboree will do the job as well. That was Racine, Wis. Jerstad-Agerholm Middle School PTSA’s idea. They took the all-inclusive party route and joined the elementary and middle schoolers together, along with their parents, to have a fun-filled day with arts and crafts, food, games and raffles.

TYFTSW events help to get your students and their parents on the same page. It’s better for everyone—students, parents, teachers and schools—when parents understand what their child is learning, especially when a student needs help with their homework. A night filled with math and literacy activities, a student art gallery and science learning are all great ways to get parents involved and up-to-date. Marigny Elementary PTA did just that! They welcomed parents to a night of fun learning to give parents ideas they can use to keep learning going at home for their kids.

Ultimately, the goal of PTA programs is team work. After all, they say it takes a village to raise a child. Parents and teachers have to make a unified effort in order to develop a better learning environment for the children. Participating in your school’s Take Your Family to School Week can get the ball rolling in the right direction! We can’t wait to see what great themes you come up with next year!


Ebony Scott is the communications intern at National PTA.

4 Ways to Get Involved in Your Children’s Education

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This blog was originally posted on TODAY Parenting Team.

Every parent wants the best for their child and wants to be engaged in their education to support their learning and achievement.

The challenge for many parents, however, is figuring out what they can do and knowing the most effective ways to get involved.

As the president of National PTA, I have spoken to many parents who have asked, “How can I be involved in my child’s school and learning when I work a full-time job and keep a busy schedule to support my family?” As a working parent, I had the same question and concern when my children entered school.

After first getting involved, I quickly realized the importance to help my children—and all children—succeed and reach their full potential—no matter the level of involvement.

It is important to remember that involvement is different for every family and is not limited to attending meetings or participating at school.

Here are some ways to get involved:

Join PTA
Get involved with your local parent teacher association. Even if you are an on-the-go mom or dad, you will find support from other parents in PTA who have the same questions, concerns, hopes and dreams for their children. You will also be part of a dedicated network of families, educators, businesses and community leaders who are working to ensure all children receive a high-quality education. That means, even if you aren’t able to be at every meeting, you know there is a group of parents who are invested in the success of every child at your school — including yours.

Talk about school matters at home
Be interested and listen to your child. Encourage your child to talk about his/her day and express concerns. Learn about your child’sstrengths and weaknesses and what activities he/she likes and doesn’t like. Two-way communication is essential to developing an active and positive relationship and an open, ongoing dialogue is critical. Then if any issues come up at school, your child will feel more comfortable talking to you about it.

Be a partner in your child’s learning
Education is individual for each child and remains a shared responsibility. It is important to work with your child’s teacher to best support him or her. It is also essential to develop a relationship with your child’s teacher and keep in touch with him/her often. Find out the best way to contact your child’s teacher and ask for times when it would be convenient for him or her to talk. It is also important to provide teachers with the best way to contact you. Consistent communication (via email, phone, etc.) will help build relationships.

Advocate for your child
You are your child’s best advocate. It is important to be a voice for your own and every child to ensure they are treated fairly and have access to opportunities that will enable them to reach their full potential. It is also critical to advocate with local school boards and state and federal government to ensure your child’s school has the resources to provide a world class education to every student. When possible, attend school board meetings. Send e-mails and letters and make phone calls to advocate with elected officials.

The most significant type of engagement is what families do at home. Parents can monitor and support their child with his/her schoolwork and let his/her teacher or school know if there are any problems. The work families do at home that’s connected to what kids are doing in school has the biggest academic impact.

By monitoring, supporting and advocating, parents can be engaged in ways that ensure that their child has every opportunity for success.

I’m Opting Out of Opt-Out

This blog post was originally published on the Huffington Post.

With the arrival of spring comes assessment season for students, families and educators across the country. When my girls were in grade school, I remember dedicating time to helping them be confident and ready to take state tests. I also remember some feelings of anxiety before the tests, but at the same time, the importance of the assessments in helping my children’s teachers and school better support their success through data-driven planning and decision-making.

During testing season last year, reports emerged that a large number of students were opted out of state assessments. While polls have indicated a majority of parents do not support the concept of opt-out, the movement has vocal supporters and it is expected that even more attention will be paid to student participation in assessments.

Understandably, many parents and educators have concerns about the over emphasis on testing and the impact it is having on teaching and learning. Speaking up and taking action is a critical step to improve the overall education system and ensure every child has the opportunity to reach his/her full potential. However, National PTA does not believe that full scale assessment opt-out is an effective strategy to address the frustration over testing or that opting-out helps to improve a given assessment instrument. Mass opt-out comes at a real cost to the goals of educational equity and individual student achievement while leaving the question of assessment quality unanswered.

The consequences of non-participation in state assessments can have detrimental impacts on students and schools. Non-participation can result in a loss of funding, diminished resources and decreased interventions for students. Such ramifications would impact minorities and students with special needs disparately, thereby widening the achievement gap.

For example, states like New York that did not meet the participation requirement last school year received a letter stating that funding–including for English language learners, students with disabilities and other students in need–could be at risk if they have less than 95% participation on exams this spring. Opting out also stalls innovation by inhibiting effective monitoring and improvement of programs, exams and instructional strategies, and could thwart transparency by providing incomplete data for states, districts and schools.

Recognizing the concerns parents and educators have about testing, and the importance of improving assessment systems, National PTA’s Board of Directors recently adopted a position statement on assessment. The statement acknowledges the importance of eliminating unnecessary and low-quality assessments while protecting the vital role that good assessments play in measuring student progress so parents and educators have the best information to support teaching and learning, improve outcomes and ensure equity for all children.

While some will solely focus on the statement’s opposition to opt-out policies, when read in its entirety, the statement provides a holistic approach to improving assessment systems. National PTA advocates for improved assessment systems by recommending that states and districts: (1) ensure appropriate development; (2) guarantee reliability and implementation of high quality assessments; (3) clearly articulate to parents the assessment and accountability system in place at their child’s school and (4) bring schools and families together to use the data to support student growth and learning.

National PTA strongly advocates for and continues to support increased inclusion of the parent voice in educational decision making at all levels. Parents and families must be at the table when policymakers are considering policies that affect students. National PTA believes in the power of parents making their voices heard and being a part of the solution through engagement. As vice president of advocacy for the association, I have witnessed the ability of families and schools to come together and make true, meaningful improvement through robust dialogue, deliberate investment and thoughtful consensus.

Now is the time for all of us to work together to ensure assessments are executed properly and provide valuable information to parents, teachers and school leaders about the growth and achievement of students as they are intended to do. We must be effective stewards of education for our nation’s children by improving assessment systems, not opting children out of the system that should be for their benefit.


 

Shannon Sevier is vice president of advocacy for National PTA, the nation’s oldest and largest child advocacy association dedicated to ensuring all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Sevier is a proud mother of two high school students and a college student.

Senate Agriculture Committee Moves Forward on Reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act

Last month, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry unanimously passed bipartisan legislation—Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016—to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act/Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act for five years.

The bipartisan reauthorization in the Senate comes after years of debate on how to move forward with school nutrition standards—even though the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in October that 97% of schools were successfully meeting updated nutrition standards.

As part of the bipartisan compromise, the bill would keep the current fruits and vegetables requirement intact—that all students must have at least a half cup of fruits and vegetables with every federally funded school meal. However, grain and sodium requirements are expected to change through USDA’s rulemaking process (instead of the legislative process) before the next school year.

The new regulations for rulemaking would consist of delaying target 2 sodium restrictions in schools from school year (SY) 2017-2018 to 2019-2020 and lowering whole grain-rich requirements from 100% of grains served in schools to 80%. Although National PTA is not in favor of these changes, our association is still in support of the overall bill.

The bipartisan compromise preserves the progress made on school nutrition standards as well as school breakfast and lunch programs while keeping the child nutrition reauthorization process moving forward.

The bill also contains many key elements of the School Food Modernizations Act (S. 540)—that National PTA supported. The reauthorization bill would establish loan assistance and grant programs to help school districts upgrade their food service facilities and assist with staff training opportunities.

The Senate child nutrition reauthorization bill would also require studies on the effects of serving children healthy and nutritious meals at school, which include research and reviews of:

  • Nutrition education best practices
  • State training and technical assistance for schools to serve healthy school meals
  • Effects of selling varieties of milk on milk consumption at school
  • Target sodium requirements for schools and the effect on childrens’ health and school nutrition programs

The Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act is expected to move to the Senate floor for consideration in the coming months. The House Education and the Workforce Committee has not released their reauthorization of the child nutrition act yet and the possibility of the House taking up the Senate bill is still unclear.

Sign-up to receive our PTA Takes Action e-newsletter and follow @NationalPTA on Twitter for updates on the bill and information on other National PTA legislative priorities.


Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.

Department of Education Provides Guidance to Help Reduce and Improve Testing

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education released guidance to help states and districts improve the quality of assessments and eliminate redundant and misaligned tests. Of significance to PTA, the guidance encourages Title I schools to conduct assessment literacy nights to increase understanding and communication between families and schools about the use of assessments and how to use test results to support learning at home. Acting U.S. Secretary of Education, John B. King Jr., also released this video explaining more about the guidance.

National PTA acknowledges the important role that high-quality assessments play in promoting equity and improving the outcomes of all of our nation’s children. Assessments provide valuable information to parents, teachers and school leaders about the growth and achievement of their students. At the same time, National PTA recognizes the concerns many parents and educators have about the over-emphasis on testing and impact it has on student learning opportunities in the classroom. We applaud the Department’s guidance to help address the current challenges and provide actionable opportunities for states and districts to carry out the work of improving assessments.

The letter to Chief State School Officers by the Department of Education follows President Obama’s Testing Action Plan that was released in October 2015 and identifies key principles for good assessments. While the newly enacted Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) encourages movement away from high stakes testing, the Department’s new document provides immediate opportunities for states and districts to take advantage of current federal resources to reduce testing and support more effective assessment systems since the new law will not take full effect until the 2017–2018 school year.

National PTA recognizes that many states are still working to implement high quality assessment systems that seek to provide valuable information to parents, teachers and school leaders about the growth and achievement of their students. The National PTA Board of Directors recently adopted a position statement on assessment that outlines several recommendations that were highlighted in the Department’s guidance such as auditing of assessment systems to reduce unnecessary tests, ensuring appropriate development, reliability and implementation of high quality assessments, clear and multiple means of communication and engagement with families on assessment, improving the timeliness and comprehension of assessment results, and providing adequate professional development to educators on assessment.

As stated in the PTA Board of Directors adopted position statement, National PTA believes a sound and comprehensive assessment system should include multiple measures of student growth and achievement that reflect the depth and breadth of knowledge and skills that students are expected to acquire, as well as their capacity to perform critical competencies. The association has long held that neither one test, nor a single data point should ever be the sole determinant of a student’s academic or work future. High-quality assessments play a vital role in providing valuable information to parents, students and teachers on student progress.


Jacki Ball is the director of government affairs at National PTA.

The Smart Talk Holiday Gift Tags

The-Smart-Talk-Holiday-Tags-Horizontal-Wide-750x313Digital devices are topping holiday wish lists for many kids this year. Are you considering giving the gift of technology this year? Perhaps you are upgrading your smartphone and passing down your old phone to your child. Before your child starts using their new (or new used) smart device it’s important to set some smart ground rules.

While many new devices come with instruction booklets- they don’t cover things like who your kid should be “friending” or “following” and when they should share texts with a trusted adult. It’s up to parents to have clear conversations with their kids about using technology responsibly and that can leave many parents wondering where to start. The good news is that there’s a tool that makes the whole process a no-brainer.

LifeLock and the National PTA recently teamed up to create The Smart Talk, a free, online toolkit to help you set up—with your child—some technology ground rules. The goal? A healthier relationship with technology.

Just sit down with your child and review a series of questions on a variety of important, tech topics—from privacy to respect, from apps to social media. In about 15 minutes, you’ll have an agreement you can print, sign and post on the fridge for easy reference.

And just in time for the holidays, we also have gift tags that you can use to remind your family to talk about technology before the fun and games begin. Just print and use as tags on all your tech gifts!

Have a great holiday—and kick off the New Year with The Smart Talk!


Erin Thwaites is the Associate Manager, Health & Safety at National PTA.

Maryland PTA Helps Parents Interpret Results of New PARCC Assessments

parccThis past spring, millions of students across the country took the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) assessments in English language arts/literacy and mathematics for the first time. Parents are now receiving their children’s scores from the tests.

Since these are new tests and assess skills like critical-thinking and problem-solving, the score reports may look different from reports provided to families from previous tests. As part of its ongoing commitment to help families navigate the changes taking place in classrooms, Maryland PTA collaborated with the Maryland State Department of Education to conduct webinars and in-person programs for parents across the state to answer their questions on the new assessments, help them interpret their children’s scores on the tests and empower them with tools and resources to support their children’s success. The information sessions also were designed to help parents work together with their children’s teachers and administrators to fill gaps in learning as determined from the PARCC results to ensure children graduate prepared for college and careers.

The PARCC tests measure the extent to which students are learning the knowledge and skills they need to progress in their K-12 education and beyond. The new score reports are designed to be actionable and be tools for parents to understand where their child is doing well and where there may be a need for additional support. This information, along with grades, teacher feedback and scores on other tests, will help give parents a more complete picture of how well their child is performing academically.

As part of the information sessions, Maryland PTA utilized BeALearningHero.org and Understandthescore.org. BeALearningHero.org features a search engine where parents can find tools and resources—in English and Spanish—specific to their child’s needs­. UnderstandTheScore.org includes a Score Report Guide to help parents identify the key factors that determine their child’s performance on the PARCC test, as well as his/her academic gaps and strengths in English language arts/literacy and mathematics. Once parents pinpoint their child’s strengths or needs, they can connect to resources, tools and activities that support their child’s achievement.

We know every parent wants the best for their children and wants to support their learning in the most effective ways. Maryland PTA will continue to deliver regularly-updated, timely information to help parents feel confident and informed.

Parents can visit www.MDpta.org to learn more about the PARCC results and to receive regular updates with tools, tips and resources.


Elizabeth Ysla Leight is the president at Maryland PTA.

Help PTA Grow This #GivingTuesday

2015 NPTA Giving Tuesday Tree.fwThe holiday season is here! It’s an exciting and busy time for families around the country. But as you’re shopping, cooking and celebrating, I ask that you mark #GivingTuesday (December 1) on your calendars.

#GivingTuesday, the Tuesday following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, has been designated to remind us of the spirit of the season and encourage us to give back by supporting causes and organizations we care about through a monetary donation.

This #GivingTuesday, I’m asking for your support of National PTA.

National PTA develops programs and resources that PTAs across the country rely on to make change happen in schools and communities. From supplementing classroom lessons with activities that make learning fun to helping families make healthy and safe decisions every day—we’re there to make a real impact on students and families nationwide.

National PTA also empowers families to speak up and advocate for their and all children—before their school boards, local and state government, and in Washington DC—to ensure they are provided a high-quality education, have a safe environment in which to thrive and learn, and have access to opportunities and services that enable them to reach their full potential.

For more than 100 years, National PTA has taken action to make a difference for the education, health and well-being of every child. Because of the work of National PTA, our nation has child labor laws to protect against unsafe working practices and conditions, kindergarten is a part of our public school system, hot lunches are served every day to millions of children in schools, and a separate juvenile justice system exists so that children are not tried and incarcerated as adults.

On December 1, please visit our #GivingTuesday page to make a donation. Then help spread the word among families in your community about why you give to PTA. I’m guessing your reasons are similar to mine—we know PTA is a powerful voice for all children and the best way to bring together families, educators, business and community leaders to solve the toughest problems and effect change.

With your support, National PTA and PTAs nationwide will continue and build upon programs and efforts that are improving the lives and futures of our nation’s children.

The oak tree is the official emblem of National PTA. The tree symbolizes strength, growth and community. Please join me in making a gift on #GivingTuesday to keep PTA strong and growing so we can make every child’s potential a reality.

Thank you for your support of PTA on #GivingTuesday and all year round!


Laura Bay is the president of National PTA.