VAMLE Appoints New Executive Director
The Vermont Association for Middle Level Education (VAMLE) is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Dave F. Brown as our new Executive Director. Dave will be taking over the position from outgoing Executive Director Jackie Wilson who did an amazing job guiding the organization through one of the most challenging times in Vermont education history.
Dave brings a lifetime commitment to middle level education to this role and VAMLE will welcome his knowledge and guidance in the years ahead. Dr. Dave F. Brown is an educational researcher and author, and professor emeritus in the College of Education and Social Work at West Chester University. He has thirteen years of public-school teaching experience from 4th – 8th grade—many of those years at the middle level in the Midwest and Virginia. Dave coached middle and high school male and female athletic teams for all of those years. He has a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a master’s degree in Outdoor Teacher Education (a curriculum and instruction degree) both from Northern Illinois University. Dave’s doctorate degree is in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Tennessee with emphases in child development and educational psychology.
Dave taught courses in Young Adolescent Development, Child Development, Culturally Responsive Teaching, and Classroom Management at West Chester University for over 20 years as a professor there. He’s also been an adjunct at Villanova University for 28 years where he continues to teach two graduate courses: Educating Middle School Students: What Really Works and Urban Education. Dave supervised student teachers at Castleton University and St. Michael’s College over the past year.
Dr. Brown has presented results of studies he’s conducted at the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) annual conferences several times over the past 20 years and also at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) conferences. He has authored over 30 journal publications based on his studies and 7 book chapters. Dave’s latest co-written chapter is in the book School is Life, Not a Preparation for Life—John Dewey: Democratic Practices in Middle Grades Education titled, “Our Rules, Our Curriculum, Our Assessments: Rationale and Strategies for Creating Democratic Classrooms” (Brown, Doda, Knowles, & Mercurio, 2021). He also recently co-authored a chapter for the International Handbook of Middle Grades Education: Theory, Research, and Policy (2020) titled, “The Effects of Contemporary Technology on Young Adolescents’ Socioemotional Behaviors and Learning” (Poehner & Brown, 2020).
Dave is a member of the editorial boards for Research in Middle Level Education Online and Middle Grades Research Journal. His latest national presentation was at the Association for Middle Level Education Annual Conference (virtual) in 2020. Dave’s latest international presentation was in 2017 at the European League for Middle Level Education Annual Conference in Vienna, Austria. Dave was a member of the executive board for the Pennsylvania Association for Middle Level Education (PAMLE) for 10 years, serving as the board’s legislative liaison the last three years. Dave also served as a member of the Pennsylvania Don Eichhorn Schools: Schools to Watch Leadership Team. Dave has served as a member of the Vermont Association for Middle Level Education (VAMLE) executive board for the past year and half, and also as a member of the board of directors for the New England League of Middle Schools (NELMS).
Dr. Brown is co-author of all three editions of What Every Middle School Teacher Should Know (Brown & Knowles, 3rd ed., 2014) published by Heinemann, and is currently working on the 4th edition of this book (possible publication in 2022). He also authored Becoming a Successful Urban Teacher (2002) and Why America’s Public Schools Are the Best Place for Kids: Reality vs. Negative Perceptions (2012).
Our statement on standardized testing:
Vermont Association for Middle Level Education Statement on the use of Student Standardized State Tests During the 2020 – 2021 Academic Year
We, the executive board members of the Vermont Association for Middle Level Education (VAMLE), wish to note our professional opposition to the administration of the annual Vermont Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) this Spring. Our responsibility as VAMLE Board members and as middle level educators and researchers is to promote best practice based on our mission: "VAMLE’s mission is to inform and guide all stakeholders dedicated to making education relevant and successful for Vermont’s 10-15 year olds." Our opposition is grounded in research-based knowledge and facts of the current academic environment noted in the points listed below.
We believe that school attendance restrictions alone this year prohibit typical student academic gains when compared to a traditional instructional delivery system of students attending school for approximately 150 days prior to test administration dates. It is likely that students’ actual attendance this year is closer to half of that time (75 – 80 days) based on the hybrid models of attendance schedules for many school districts throughout the state.
The quintessential component of learning is direct, immediate, and constant feedback that students receive from face-to-face interactions with teachers throughout a school day. These interactions are severely reduced when teaching and learning occur via virtual formats. Students are asking fewer questions and have revealed in interviews (Brown, 2020) that they desire more teacher feedback about their learning and greater opportunities to ask questions that don’t believe exist in their current virtual learning experiences. Many students are uncomfortable learning in the electronic formats, particularly young adolescents who often lack the verbal skills and confidence as learners to engage in the type of public discourse needed in virtual learning. Failure to receive immediate feedback prevents students from making timely academic gains as they would in a traditional learning format.
A high percentage of students are not visible during class while they are learning virtually. Many teachers have no idea whether students are actually focused on learning or even in the same room as their computers while class is occurring. A percentage of students across the state also lack broadband access—severely limiting their school “attendance” each day. How could any external standardized test data this year demonstrate the kind of growth all expect in a traditional academic year?
Students of all ages have experienced an unprecedented level of anxiety and stress associated with being away from school this year: anxiety about how they will be affected by COVID; about how their family members have been affected by COVID; more exposure to social media without conversations with someone other than their family members about how social media causes perhaps even more stress for them; fewer outlets for alleviating stress—no extracurriculars, fewer daily in-school classes such as music, band, theater, family and consumer science due to fewer days in school. Stress and anxiety have a particularly negative effect on adolescent students’ learning (Jensen, 2015). Bringing students into school to take the state tests will likely create another level of stress that affects their cognitive abilities, and thus, their test performance.
Many students who are primarily at home half of the school week are experiencing stressors that they’ve never had to put up with in a traditional educational environment--food insecurity, possible family dysfunction, homelessness, limited parental (adult) oversight—factors that come with much fewer than the traditional 180 days at school rather than at home.
One purpose of collecting test data is to ascertain the growth of students throughout two thirds of an academic year (tests given in March or April). Data from this year’s tests would not demonstrate typical growth due to the limited days in school for all students. Plus, the younger students are and the greater academic challenges that students have, the more guidance they need. All scores are likely to be considerably lower, but particularly those of students with greater learning challenges.
It is clear from a pedagogical perspective that external standardized testing of students will serve no purpose other than to reveal the obvious—students have suffered socially, emotionally, academically, and for many, even physically this year due to the learning conditions created by the pandemic. We, as middle level educators, understand young adolescents’ developmental processes; and it is clear from students’ voices that they are highly affected this year in ways that no one could have predicted due to the pandemic.
The purpose of any legislatively produced educational policy is to either improve students’ learning or to help teachers in their pedagogical responsibilities (become better educators). Standardized testing seldom, if ever, meets those two critical criteria in a traditional academic year—testing certainly won’t improve students’ lives this year.
Our suggestions for improving students’ lives this year are to use the money usually reserved for testing protocols to
• hire additional counselors at all academic levels to assist students with their increased anxiety and stress;
• place the funds into infrastructure to build broadband access for more Vermonters;
• hire more teachers in lower socioeconomic communities to provide more and better support for those students;
• hire more teachers’ aides to assist those students with special needs.
We believe that the role of state education policy is to promote and create greater equity for all so as to improve the academic lives of all K – 12 Vermont students. This is a year when external standardized student testing data will likely reveal considerable deficits in student learning this past academic year—results that are painfully obvious to those professional educators on the front lines each day. Collecting these test data in this traditional manner serves no useful or valuable purpose this year. We call on the Agency of Education and the state legislative bodies to order a suspension of these tests this year in the best interests of students, caregivers, and our state’s professional educators.