Sunday, December 28, 2008
Bronx 8th-graders boycott practice exam but teacher may get ax
When Douglas Avella walked into the teacher re-assignment center after being removed from IS 318 in the South Bronx, he was greeted with applause.
One of the ways we can show how far the NYC Board of Education has gone into "la-la" land about re-assigning excellent, caring, and dedicated teachers is by telling the stories of people like Mr. Avella.
So now the attacks against Mr. Avella begin (see below, comments of NYC BOE press spokesperson David Cantor) but we know better. By all accounts, Mr. Avella is a popular and excellent teacher who should return to his classroom ASAP.
Teacher may get ax after kids boycott exam
BY CARRIE MELAGO, DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Friday, May 23rd 2008, 4:00 AM
School officials are moving to fire a Bronx teacher blamed for a test boycott at his school.
Douglas Avella was removed from his classroom at Intermediate School 318 after students handed in blank standardized exams to protest high-stakes tests last week.
School sources said there have been long-running problems with Avella, who is accused of being verbally abusive to students and writing "excellent conclusion" on an essay that promoted shooting cops.
Avella said he had no part in organizing the protest and charged that the school's principal has targeted him because she disagrees with his politics.
"I was committed to staying only because I had a lot of positive work with those students," he said from a reassignment center Thursday. "I didn't want to let them down."
Avella, a probationary teacher, has been placed in what is commonly known as a rubber room, where teachers linger for months at full salary awaiting discipline rulings. A Daily News investigation showed that sidelining the teachers costs taxpayers about $65 million a year.
Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has declined to comment on Avella but said he was upset the students handed in blank tests.
Bronx 8th-graders boycott practice exam but teacher may get ax
by Juan Gonzalez, Daily News
Wednesday, May 21st 2008, 4:00 AM
Students at a South Bronx middle school have pulled off a stunning boycott against standardized testing.
More than 160 students in six different classes at Intermediate School 318 in the South Bronx - virtually the entire eighth grade - refused to take last Wednesday's three-hour practice exam for next month's statewide social studies test.
Instead, the students handed in blank exams.
Then they submitted signed petitions with a list of grievances to school Principal Maria Lopez and the Department of Education.
"We've had a whole bunch of these diagnostic tests all year," Tatiana Nelson, 13, one of the protest leaders, said Tuesday outside the school. "They don't even count toward our grades. The school system's just treating us like test dummies for the companies that make the exams."
According to the petition, they are sick and tired of the "constant, excessive and stressful testing" that causes them to "lose valuable instructional time with our teachers."
School administrators blamed the boycott on a 30-year-old probationary social studies teacher, Douglas Avella.
The afternoon of the protest, the principal ordered Avella out of the classroom, reassigned him to an empty room in the school and ordered him to have no further contact with students.
A few days later, in a reprimand letter, Lopez accused Avella of initiating the boycott and taking "actions [that] caused a riot at the school."
The students say their protest was entirely peaceful. In only one class, they say, was there some loud clapping after one exam proctor reacted angrily to their boycott.
This week, Lopez notified Avella in writing that he was to attend a meeting today for "your end of the year rating and my possible recommendation for the discontinuance of your probationary service."
"They're saying Mr. Avella made us do this," said Johnny Cruz, 15, another boycott leader. "They don't think we have brains of our own, like we're robots. We students wanted to make this statement. The school is oppressing us too much with all these tests."
Two days after the boycott, the students say, the principal held a meeting with all the students to find out how their protest was organized.
Avella on Tuesday denied that he urged the students to boycott tests.
Yes, he holds liberal views and is critical of the school system's increased emphasis on standardized tests, Avella said, but the students decided to organize the protest after weeks of complaining about all the diagnostic tests the school was making them take.
"My students know they are welcome in my class to have open discussions," Avella said. "I teach them critical thinking."
"Some teachers implied our graduation ceremony would be in danger, that we didn't have the right to protest against the test," said Tia Rivera, 14. "Well, we did it."
Lopez did not return calls for comment.
"This guy was far over the line in a lot of the ways he was running his classroom," said Department of Education spokesman David Cantor. "He was pulled because he was inappropriate with the kids. He was giving them messages that were inappropriate."
Several students defended Avella. They say he had made social studies an exciting subject for them.
"Now they've taken away the teacher we love only a few weeks before our real state exam for social studies," Tatiana Nelson said. "How does that help us?"
See Daily News Discussion
Civil Disobedience: South Bronx 8th-Graders Refuse the TEST! (I'm Impressed.)
My spirits soared this morning when I saw the headline in the New York Daily News: "Hell, No, we won't take another test!"
Virtually the entire 8th grade at the South Bronx's Intermediate School 318 handed in blank exam packets for a three-hour social studies practice test. The social studies teacher, Mr. Douglas Avella, is being fingered for inciting the boycott, but the students say otherwise. Here are some choice quotes from the article:
Johnny Cruz, 15: "They're saying Mr. Avella made us do this. They don't think we have brains of our own, like we're robots. We students wanted to make this statement. The school is oppressing us too much with all these tests."
Tatiana Nelson, 13: "We've had a whole bunch of these diagnostic tests all year. They don't even count toward our grades. The school system's just treating us like test dummies for the companies that make the exams."
Tia Rivera, 14: "Some teachers implied our graduation ceremony would be in danger, that we didn't have the right to protest against the test. Well, we did it."
Department of Education spokesman David Cantor: "This guy [teacher Douglas Avella] was far over the line in a lot of the ways he was running his classroom. He was pulled because he was inappropriate with the kids. He was giving them messages that were inappropriate."
High-stakes testing has spiraled out of control. Test companies, under the guise of boosting accountability, are reaping millions and students are being cheated out of their precious school days. We are kidding ourselves if we think students aren't wise to this scheme. The reason we haven't seen more uprisings like the incident at I.S. 318 is that students have been intellectually and spiritually bludgeoned into submission.
Perhaps the dramatic boycott at I.S. 318 can help to bring into focus the fact that solely defining achievement via test scores (as is the current practice) is not authentic assessment. High-stakes tests, administered to students starting in early elementary school, terrify children, narrow curricula, and distort the discourse on public education. When supervisors' bonuses (or jobs) hinge on one specific factor-- test scores-- unhealthy fixation is a natural byproduct.
America's test-mania leaves out too much important stuff, and students are the losers for it. Comprehensive portfolios of standards-based student work paint an infinitely truer picture of students' growth and achievement. We can keep standardized tests, but we must leave behind the end-all, be-all nature they currently own. Going to school should be about discovering and unlocking one's potential through rigorous work in a supportive, personal environment--not an endless rehearsal for a basic skills test.
I applaud Douglas Avella's students at I.S. 318 for taking a difficult, risky stand on a high-stakes issue.
Dan Brown the author of the teacher memoir, The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Jungle.