NY Governor Cuomo’s Comments on Elem Testing: He Said What?

What is going on with the powers that be in NYS government and education? The recent comments of Governor Cuomo are a striking difference from recent comments made by the Chancellor of the state Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch. Add to the mix comments by state legislators and we have the setup for a potential steel cage match in Albany’s state capitol building.

Here’s where we start.

March 31, 2014 (here): Governor Cuomo comments about delaying the impact of the new tests on teacher evaluations at an afternoon event at LIU-Post in Brookville: “I think that parents can now exhale. Students can now exhale,” Cuomo said. “The test scores don’t count.” According to the Newsday report of the event, “Under a deal approved by the Senate and Assembly, Common Core-aligned tests for students in grades 3 through 8 won’t be included on their transcripts through 2018. Further, school districts can’t use the scores as the sole way to determine student placement.”

Fast forward another year to more recent comments.

March 20, 2015 (here): Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever responds to concerns expressed by parents of children with learning disabilities and parents attending a pro-teacher rally by dismissing “…the protests as the tantrum of “special interests.”

April 2, 2015 (here): Dr. Kathleen Cashin, a member of the New York State Board of Regents, representing Brooklyn, pens a statement to Diane Ravitch and states: “As a Regent of the State of New York, I cannot endorse the use of the current state tests for teacher/principal evaluation since that was not the purpose for which they were developed.” She continues, “How can we criticize people for opting out when the tests have not been verified? We need to cease and desist in the use of these tests until such time as we can be confident of their reliability and validity. If tests do meet those criteria, the tests must be released to teachers and to the public after they are given, in the spirit of transparency and accountability.”

April 15, 2015 (here): Board of Regents Chancellor Tisch downplays the opt-out movement and paints parents as confused patsies of a labor action in a discussion with Diane Ravitch on MSNBC. Chancellor Tisch said, “The intent of the test is to give a snapshot of performance and allow parents to know where their children are at any given point in their educational career as compared to their peers.” She continued with this rebuttal to one of Ravitch’s comments: “I would say that the tests are really a diagnostic tool that is used to inform instruction and curriculum development throughout the state.” She later added, “…school districts report to us all the time that they design curriculum around the results of these tests. I would say to our parents that our kids have got caught in the labor dispute between the governor and the teacher’s union.”

April 24, 2015 (here): Governor Cuomo provides the most telling sound bite to date: “The grades are meaningless to the students,” Cuomo said in a brief press gaggle following an Association for a Better New York breakfast event in New York City. Cuomo said he believes they haven’t done a good job of publicizing the fact that the tests, for at least the next five years, won’t count at all for the students.”

“They can opt out if they want to, but on the other hand if the child takes the test, it’s practice and the score doesn’t count,” Cuomo said.

He said what?

Spring 2015 NYS Math Exam – An Inside View

Parents: If you are in the Long Island Opt Out Facebook group make sure you check in this week to get a sense of what the New York State Math exams for grades 3-8 were like. You can just lurk and skim without even posting. Every comment below was publicly posted in that group. No comment posted below was edited by me.

This post follows up my incredibly popular (for this blog anyway) posts that curated the public, anonymous, comments that surfaced in the same group during the week of NYS ELA testing. Part 1 is here and part 2 is here.

_________________

Anonymous Post:
I’ve received word from a teacher giving the math assessment this morning that “in my 5 years of giving this test this is by far the hardest. One of my top kids in class started crying 4 minutes into the exam” I thought you might like that info as I am foreseeing some really upset children after today.

Anonymous post:
8th grade Math Exam today- linear equations [heavy] unfair distribution
If you are a student who struggles you couldn’t pass.

Anonymous post:
Do you know that children that are in the country for less than a year are exempt from ELA BUT still must take the math test. I have a kid who moved here in September. NO ENGLISH!!! Has made great progress in speaking but still struggles with reading and writing obviously. He can do math bc his parents work with him in both languages. He has to take our math test!!! There is no straight computation. All word problems with several steps involved to solve them. He had no chance. He was in distress.very upset. He will fail and I will be ineffective!!!so unfair to put a kid through this. Yesterday was difficult and today was highly challenging for 8 year old kids.

Anonymous post:
Today teachers were crying!!!! I cried! Today was unfair! Today was abuse- especially for reading disabled kids, ELLs, and even average kid. What are we doing??? As a whole- the test heavily concentrated on fractions and area. Any addition or subtraction was part of multi step problems. It did not show what a kid learned all year. Very wordy- requiring abstract thinking that’s above many kid’s heads. Very sad that kids without translators are forced to sit there for 70 minutes. A girl who has been in the country a short time has been excelling in math but came back saying that test was HORRIBLE! These government officials have no clue what’s going on in these classes!! They need to investigate
(Comment left on the above post included:  “7th grade was so bad yesterday that in addition to those who cried during yesterday’s test, I had two crying before today’s began. Another opted out of the last day after breaking down yesterday, and when we came to the question part of the directions, the only questions were what to do if they get too stressed. ..what are we doing to our children?”)

Anonymous post:
As a school nurse it so difficult watching these kids suffer through this rigorous testing. The number of kids I have seen in the past 2 weeks on test days has doubled and some days even tripled. From stomach aches, head aches, anxiety attacks to throwing up. For those parents who feel their kid needs this test so you can “see how they are doing”, please educate yourself on what these tests are truly about. It’s not about letting your child take the easy way out. Educate your child and yourselves. There is a way to explain why they won’t be taking it that sends a very positive message. From what I have seen in my office, this is no way to treat a young child. This needs to stop.

(Not an anonymous comment below, but I am posting it without a name.)
There is a lot of inferencing and math reasoning needed to be able to function at a high level on this test. Children with reading disabilities and children from foreign countries have very little chance on this math test and not because they are not good at math. I realize that if kids do well it shows they are very good and can apply skills but if it was read to some kids they could do equally as well and it’s unfair. My ELL kids are great at math but now will get a 1 or 2 and it shows they didn’t grow. The work I have seen them do shows me so much more and it’s sad

Anonymous post:
I proctored the 4th grade NYS math test this week for a group of our Special ed children. Some needed the test read to them, which already puts them behind the eight ball. It was just heartbreaking, the kids were in tears, I was in tears. I am not their teacher but I know they have a dedicated, wonderful teacher, yet almost every answer was wrong. Some of the wording was almost purposeful in trying to confuse them. Simply put, it was cruel. I felt that I should have been allowed to make copies of the test & send it home to their parents. Let the parents talk to them about it, the parents have a right to know what made their chlldren struggle and cry during the day! Our district had many children opt out, but some of the ones that didn’t teachers were telling me kids were doodling, filling in dots in patterns, etc. Such a flawed system. This is what will deem our educators “ineffective??”

(Not an anonymous comment below, but I am posting it without a name.)
I have absolutely no words to describe the grade 3 math test today. My only wish is that every parent could see these tests. In 8 years, I have never witnessed anything like this.

Anonymous post:
Fifth grade math question, Day 3, has drawing of a bin labeled 4 ft w, h, l with 3 sections drawn in it. “A recycling bin is in the shape of a cube. The bin is divided into 3 equal sections that each hold different types of paper. The school principal notices that only one-half of one section is filled with paper. What is the volume, in cubic feet, of the rest of the bin that can be filled with paper?”

 

Part 2: Spring 2015 NYS ELA Exam – An Inside View

The first post in this series was viewed by nearly 9,000 readers at the time of the posting of this update. So many views that I felt compelled to give my readers exactly what they wanted: more of the same. Again, the comments below are not my words. These were all publicly found in the Facebook group, Long Island Opt Out, from the morning of Friday April 17 up until today. Please feel free to comment below or share this post with others. I will also work to compile any new comments this week about the Math exams. No comment posted below was edited by me.

Heartbreaking anonymous post:
I work in a poor neighborhood. A student of mine, a little boy, lost his dad in the fall. I gather his mom either doesn’t work or doesn’t make enough money and they lost their housing situation as well, recently. They are now living in a shelter. In its infinite wisdom, NYS requires that children take the state assessments in the last school they were registered in. So this kid travels from a shelter in Brooklyn to Queens to take the ELA tests. How absolutely ridiculous. As if this kid stands even a remote chance of being successful. What’s more important here? How about some compassion?

Anonymous post:
My son said the third day of third ELA had an excerpt from a book called an American army of two. I googled it but found nothing. He said the content was hard and it had rhetorical questions in it. They were asked why they thought the author asked questions of the readers. He read at a fourth grade level in first grade. He gets 4s on reading in report card. He was so frustrated that his eyes well up with tears. The teacher said she was so sorry but couldn’t help him and he understood. He said he felt like they were not real questions?? He took the test alone with a teacher away from the rest of his class. He does have an IEP. He said a few class members that were strong readers cried that day. He had anxiety about refusing and begged us to to take it. Now we feel awful.

Anonymous post:
3rd grade tests for ela…..3 of my major issues were one reading passage entitled aurora borealis (how are they even supposed to know how to pronounce that let alone know what it is?). A constructed response on why the character was described as swaggered…..total misuse of the term….also there was a question about a shrew. …..I didn’t study the test completely, but read enough to know that I would have issues picking out the right answer bc of the ambiguity of the choices

Anonymous post:
4th grade test: Two short responses for Hattie Big Sky. The first question was describe Hattie’s personality and give two examples to support your answer. The 2nd question was “How were the chickens presented as characters in the passage. Give two examples from the text.” The second question was so abstract that none of the kids I tested were able to answer it correctly. The extended response was a written comparison of those two stories. Pure torture today.

Anonymous post:
I proctored the 5th grade. Day 1 and 3 were awful. So labor intensive. The 3rd grade post was accurate it was so hard. There was a passage about swagger. Yes, swagger. Also a part about the drive thru bank. How many city kids even know what that is? One of my co workers eyes filled with tears when her students left he room

Anonymous post:
8th grade test
Day 3 was awful. The first reading was an excerpt from Jules Verne, around the world in 80 days. There were 7 words defined in footnotes in the first two paragraphs. Generally, if there are that many words on a page that you don’t know the definition of, you should choose a different book. The words were: avaricious, taciturn, conjectures, whist, congenial, grenadier and Monsieur. There were many others that were difficult including sumptuous and valet, which they defined as manservant on Tuesday’s exam, but didn’t on Thursday. The question for this passage was about his relationship with money and how do the words straight laced, & steadfast describe the main character. The turn of phrase in the selection was so difficult that comprehension was nearly impossible. Phrases like ‘the wits of the curious were fairly puzzled’ intimate acquaintances, and itinerant singer, but the absolute best was the reference to Saville Row, as if American 13 year olds would understand that this is a fashionable street in London. There was a sentence in the passage ‘the habits of its occupant were such as to demand little from the sole domestic.’ Honestly this was for 13 year olds.

After that there were two passages (non fiction) on playground safety. Here’s the vocabulary from them:
Bowdlerized, habituation techniques, counterintuitive, common phenomenon, orthodoxy, circuitous, risk averse culture, litigious society, per se, & cognitive. I thought these were hard. Also straight laced, steadfast, scabbard.

Then there were references to a Dan Zanes concert, and these phrases:
‘Far from the tax brackets of the south street seaport’ and ‘assuage paradoxical parental anxieties’

But the kicker was this sentence:
‘Paradoxically, we posit that our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology.’

That sentence was on a test for 13 year old children. I proctored an honors class. No one finished in under an hour, most finished between around 75 -90 minutes. They were exhausted when finished. When I had their class after, I used some of the words on the test in our discussion, and a few kids raised their hands to say they didn’t know what it meant. These kids are going to a specialized NYC HS in the fall. They are bright kids. One of my special Ed students who gets double time was testing until noon. Many regular Ed students barely finished as time was called.

There was a question on the 7th grade test about ‘how does dialogue reflect the author’s purpose’ or something like that. It was awful

Anonymous post:
THE OPTOUT MOVEMENT JUST BOUGHT TEACHERS AND THEIR STUDENTS BACK A DAY OF INSTRUCTION. Instead of being pulled out for a third day of scoring tomorrow, we’ll be back together where we belong: in the classroom (fewer tests to score=fewer days to score). Awesome

Anonymous post:
I was part of the team to grade my district’s 4th grade ELA exams. The state provides sample responses at all levels (1-4) in both the training set and practice set packets for teachers to use as comparative models when grading. In all of the sample essays provided (which, I assume, are copied from real student responses on last year’s field test), there was not a single sample essay that was scored as a “4”. The state cannot even provide a sample examplary essay!

Anonymous post:
At _____ Middle School, the principal was made to read from a script to all parents who refused the test. My district is a high minority, poverty district. Many parents, after hearing “the importance” of the test let their children take the ELA exam. A few parents were yelling at their children for trying to get out of the test. Children were crying. So much for schools being bully free zones!

Public Comment Period for Proposed Changes to NY State Teacher Evaluation Process APPR

The public comment period for proposed changes to New York State’s teacher evaluation process (known as APPR) is now open. To date, I have not been able to locate a date when it closes nor find a link on NYSED’s site that explains this. Others in NY, including senators, have been posting to their social sites about it. Comments should be sent to the NYS Education Department and the Board of Regents through the following email: Eval2015@nysed.gov

On a related note, here’s a great blog post by a teacher from the spring of 2013 when NYSED also had an open window for public input. It appears they just refuse to listen. So while I am hopeful that all the new feedback they receive will have an impact, I am realistic and smart enough to know it won’t.

 

Spring 2015 NYS ELA Exam – An Inside View

UPDATE: A Part 2 for this post can be found here.

Parents: If you are in the Long Island Opt Out Facebook group make sure you check in this week to get a sense of what the ELA exams for grades 3-8 were like. You can just lurk and skim. Everything posted below was publicly posted in that group. No comment posted below was edited by me.

Understand as you read these comments below that it clearly shows that THESE tests are not about the students. It isn’t about how much they know, how well they write, how well they find facts, etc. Very many of the questions have multiple good answers and the little minds have to choose the best one. And quickly. Note the very high reading level necessary for the passages. Additionally some of the questions are embedded field tested questions meaning they don’t count towards the scores, but do count against their time. It is obvious to me that the tests were designed for student failure…no doubt in my mind.

This quote was posted as a comment in a different group regarding the exams themselves: “I would like to remind parents: after they are scored, you have the right to view your child’s test ELA book 2,3 and math book 3. It’s in the administrators manual page 46.” Ask your test taking friends to do that for you if you can!

Anonymous post:
“3rd grade test. 3 passages. 7 mc, 3 short response paragraphs. I extended response which is an essay. First passage why do animals play. Fair and mc was ok. Second passage about a girl coming over from China separated from her parents etx. Questions required time and thinking. Higher level. Third passage about drag racing short response was really tough kids god stuck and many siding get to finish test and last question which was ok. Not enough time and many tears again. I feel like an imbecile. Quote from smart student.” (Comment on this post included: “The China passage and questions required inferencing on an adult level. It was ridiculous! Our students are set up to fail.”)

Anonymous Post:
“One of the third grade stories today was an excerpt from a book called eating the plates. According to scholastic it has a grade level equivalent of 5.2 and a 720 lexile level which is on the high side for an 8 year old. Another reason why these tests are not fair.”

Anonymous post:
“Today’s third grade ELA had passages from Drag Racer. Grade level 5.9 and interest level 9-12th grade.”

Anonymous post:
“Today’s 4th grade assessment had a passage from “The Clay Marble” from Mingfo Ho. I googled it. Here’s the grade level: Interest Level Grades 6 – 8, Grade level Equivalent: 6.8, Lexile® Measure: 860L, DRA: 50, Guided Reading: V”

Anonymous post:
“This mornings ELA exam was pure child abuse! There were 5 passages (2 which appeared on last years assessment). Each passage was 2+ pages long. The kids had their 70 minutes to complete 30 questions. Of the 30 questions 17 required the students to look back at various paragraphs! Most of my children didn’t finish and were very upset that they might have disappointed me or their parents when in truth many adults wouldn’t have been able to look back and find the correct answers in a 70 minute time frame. The students were deflated as they tried to find the best answers when MANY of the questions had more than one possible answer to choose from. Children appealed for help but all we could do was pat them on the back and say “keep trying your hardest”. How awful we felt that we couldn’t comfort or help OUR kids on a test that was so far above their level. Of the 10 children in my room during the assessment, I had three gifted and talented students and only 2 kids who receive remediation- they all struggled! Word back from my colleagues in 4th grade was more of the same. Instead of 6 2-page passages like they had last year, students had 5 3-page passages. The vocabulary used most adults wouldn’t be able to define. Overall we had a school of deflated students. I’d also like to point out that their were TONS of grammatical errors. I’d love to share but we are under lock and key!”

Anonymous post:
“Are You Smarter Than a 4th Grader? Well, here are the words you would need to read (decode) and comprehend. Now some of these words may seem okay, but in the context of many being grouped in the same passage, it is overkill. The words with parenthesis were defined with a sidebar. But still, too much fluff! stifling, ajar, hassock (a padded footstool), erratically, frenzied, rabic, illuminated, peculiar, Canuck, plodded, “the crusty guardian”…crusty?, dour, rummaged, floundered, blithely, insurmountable, obscured, obliterated (wiped out or blocked), event horizon (the outer layer of the black hole), scrutinizing (examining or observing with great care), summoned, astounded, maneuvering, arsenal, precautions, straggle, hemp, stammers, coincidence, enormous, glimpsed, precious, whittle, triumphantly, awestruck, gunnysacks, plowshares, laden, wordlessly, encased, refuge, assurances, amulet.”

Anonymous post:
Fourth grade day 3 passages from WHICH WAY TO THE WILD WEST BY STEVE SHEINKIN Lexile 940
HATTIE BIG SKY by Kirby Larson Lexile 700 but lists interest level grades 6-8
IF WISHES WERE HORSES BY NATALIE KINSEY WARNOK Lexile 796

Anonymous post:
“5th grade test OUTRAGEOUS! Children had to read over 3,000 words and answer 42 questions that were sooooo ambiguous and such difficult language. All this in 90 min. Many gave up. Just bubbled in. Some didn’t finish. Just wrong.”

Anonymous post:
“The second reading in 6th grade exam given today was titled A Master Teacher by Helen Bledsoe. It was a story about Confucius and how he was credited with the exam system in China. Printed in bold letters on the second page was: Let exams do the ranking
It spoke about how people had to take exams and how those that did well received positions in government based on the results. We were appalled and angry that this found its was onto the exams today. To us it spoke to how little NYSED and Pearson care about parent wishes, students and the testing climate and quietly “attacked” it yet again.”

Anonymous post:
“Here is what middle school kids were subjected to today… 6 lengthy passages to read and 42 questions to answer in 90 minutes. The passages were boring and included subjects and words that the children would not know. When was the last time you used cherimoya, mirth, or bethought?”

Anonymous post:
“The grade 6 test was ridiculous. 6 lengthy passages of 2-3 pages and 6-7 questions based on each passage that required students to constantly to locate paragraph numbers to figure out answers. Within 90 minutes a student had to read all the passages and answer the questions. So that means 15 minutes per passage. Lets pretend that a student took 1 minute to read and answer each question, that would take 7 minutes per passage leaving a total of 8 minutes to read and comprehend the 2-3 page passage. My students were taught all year to annotate / jot notes in the margins. Ummm that is what they were doing as the time was ticking….tick ..tick….tick….tick. I had two students my two that are reading at a 9th grade level able to complete the entire test. The rest of my students had to play color in the bubbles because they ran out of time. They had to guess / select any answer for at least the last 12 questions. This is an adequate measure of my students reading? This is OKAY? This is developmentally appropriate? THIS MY FELLOW EDUCATORS IS RIDICULOUS, UNFAIR, ABUSE OF POWERS, WASTE OF TIME and downright SAD and SICK! My students have worked so hard all year to be treated like this? To feel “dumb” to be graded and labelled with a number? I am so fed up with the profession I so LOVED. My dream job was ROBBED from me. My students self-esteem that I have built up all year was ripped from them today.”

Anonymous Post:
“The NYS Assessments should be used in a court, as evidence of child abuse! NYS ELA Grade 6 Day 1 had a passage, written by a British author in the 1800s, with a readability/ text complexity range from Grade 9-College!”

Anonymous Post:
“6th grade test was ridiculous and frustrating to all. Some passages were readable, but the majority of the questions focused on text structure and specific lines of the text. Students were forced to continuously return to the text to analyze lines for almost every answer choice, which made it virtually impossible to finish in 90 minutes. Most of the selections were science based and a poem was two pages long and way too advanced for sixth graders.Vocabulary was so far over their heads in several passages as well. There were some questions where teachers could not determine the correct answer. It was heartbreaking to watch students struggle and give up. By the end, many were randomly bubbling just to “finish”. This test is no where close to bring an accurate measure of skills taught in any 6th grade ELA classroom!”

Anonymous Post:
Grade 6 Day 3: Open the booklet to see an article titled ” Nimbus Clouds: Mysterious, Ephemeral, and Now Indoors”. The word ephemeral was also used in the text and there was no footnote! I know several adults who could not define this word! After reading this painful article, they were then asked again how a photograph helps them understand certain lines of the text! The paired passages were both focused on the relationships between dogs and their owners. Here are more vocabulary words – paroxysm, sufferance (footnoted) clamorous, furlong, “queer throw back trait” (not footnoted). The children were very confused because people did not have names in the story, but the dogs did. The second paired passage was “That Spot” by Jack London, written in 1908. Again, very confusing with a lot of old English and extremely complex sentences. Vocabulary included “beaten curs”, “absconders of justice” (in the same sentence) surmise, “savve our cabin” , and “let’s maroon him”. Students were asked to determine how the author’s use of the word “that” repeatedly in front of the dog’s name shows the narrator’s relationship with the dog. Think of how difficult this must’ve been not just for general Ed students, but also for our ELL’s and Students with Disabilities! They were then also asked to determine the theme of a paragraph! Most English teachers will tell you that theme is the message the author is trying to convey throughout a WHOLE text. Asking the theme of one isolated paragraph is ridiculous! The essay was a comparison of the challenges of both dogs, which isn’t a poor question. However, the texts were both so difficult for the kids to understand that it made it difficult for them to organize their thoughts. Throw in the fact that they once again had a time limit of 90 minutes and you guaranteed frustration, anxiety, and many not finishing. Thank goodness this test is over!

Anonymous post:
“I’ve proctored the 7th grade ELA this morning and the test has become even more difficult then last year. In one section the students had to read a story and the only question regarding it was a writen response question that asked “how does the dialogue add to the meaning of the story? List two details to illustrate your point”. 11-12 year olds are not able to do this. It was devastating watching them try. They all had no idea what the question was asking. The multiple choice questions asked them to read stories and define difficult words using context clues. However every answer to define the words used even higher vocabulary so even if they could figure out the meaning of the word in the passage was they weren’t able to answer because the had no idea what the definitions of the words in the answer. I would compare the vocabulary in the answers to SAT words”

Anonymous post:
“Grade 7: Excerpt from Under the Lilacs by Alcott. Published in 1878. Included 10 footnoted vocabulary, some with 2 in one sentence. It also included “old” English such as “recognising”, “humourous” and “attind”. There was also Gaelic dialogue mixed in with the vocabulary to really add to students’ confusion. It was extremely difficult overall and most did not finish on time.”

Anonymous message:
I think it is safe to make an assumption that multiple versions of the ELA test are given. That being said, is it reasonable to question IF all the tests are equal? Do all districts receive tests with the SAME number of passages ? Are some students burdened with MORE READING than others to obtain the same number of answers? Are lexiles equal? Is the totality of all the words read in the passages the same for all students? How can a test be standardized if there are multiple versions? Could there be a purposeful distribution of tests so that districts continue to maintain certain standings?

A Possible NCLB Rewrite – Act Now #ESEA

This week (April 14-16, 2015) begins NY statewide ELA testing. Testing refusals are well underway and I am expecting huge refusal numbers not just on Long Island, but across New York state. The open Facebook group, Long Island Opt Out, has further details and both official and unofficial numbers.

However, we need not lose sight of the fact that the US Congress is taking up possible revisions to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the 2001 No Child Left Behind law (NCLB). Congress (the Senate is discussion the revisions this week) can either call for an end to annual high stakes testing, revise it, or keep it as is. It is imperative that we contact our federal legislators as much as we did recently with our local ones regarding the NYS budget vote. Right now, these politicians in Washington are making a HUGE decision. A decision that very well may  determine what teaching and learning looks like in America’s public schools over the next decade.

Don’t let this slip under the radar. Our US Senators and House representatives need to hear from us this week and until they vote on any proposed changes or this madness will continue and the state can continue to hide under the wording of “it is a federal requirement for students to be standardized tested every year.” The annual testing requirements under NCLB also set in place the punitive effects of testing we are experiencing today from possible loss of funding, to loss of teachers, to labeling students as potentially “not career or college ready.”

Below is a sample of what you can tell them in emails. Please feel free to use it. Come up with your own shortened version for posting to the attention of their social media accounts. Here’s how to find your US Senator and House rep.

______________________

Dear Senator (or Representative),

It is time to reduce annual standardized testing in our public schools.

As you consider the next re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), I urge you to roll back the amount of federally-required high-stakes standardized testing to give students more time to learn and teachers to teach—especially to work closely with students most in need. Further, test scores should not be used to punish schools or teachers nor be used as a wedge to drive a split between what takes place in the classroom and what those in charge want to take place in the classroom.

No nation over tests children, especially those children most in need, more than America. None. Not Finland, Singapore, China, Poland, Canada…none. It is excessive, unnecessary, and actually harmful. You cannot find any research or evidence that the excessive amount of standardized testing that has occurred since NCLB has actually improved schools. None.

I will continue to work hard to advocate for parents to refuse these “federally mandated” annual standardized tests until changes are made. To borrow the motto of one of my local Long Island heroes, Comsewogue Superintendent Dr. Joe Rella, “Stop It. Fix It. Or, Scrap It.”

Respectfully sent,
______________________

Some reading for you on this topic.

Follow the tweets of Politics K-12 here https://twitter.com/PoliticsK12
http://thejournal.com/articles/2015/04/07/senate-ed-committee-unveils-draft-legislation-to-fix-no-child-left-behind.aspx
http://www.nysape.org/nysape-comments-on-esea-draft-legislation.html
http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/sens-alexander-murray-propose-bipartisan-measure-to-replace-nclb/2015/04/07/c6c37b3c-dd36-11e4-acfe-cd057abefa9a_story.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/08/us/senators-propose-bipartisan-bill-to-revise-no-child-left-behind-law.html
http://dianeravitch.net/2015/04/13/mercedes-schneider-part-4-of-her-close-reading-of-the-alexander-murray-bill-to-reauthorize-nclb/
http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2015/04/senate_education_committee_con_1.html

American Schools Need Way More Than an Hour of Code

The “Hour of Code” that has swept America off its feet this week is fine and all, but what happens after that hour? America children are wonderful consumers of technology, apps, devices, and screens. It is generally not until high school that they may encounter a sustained experience in programming skills. The topic is rarely visible in the middle schools and practically completely non-existent in the elementary schools. Sure, there are pockets of success here and there, but even within districts that may say they teach these skills to students there is no uniform curriculum for it. One class does it while the neighboring class doesn’t.

Here’s why the American approach is both outdated and dangerous: learning to code teaches you how to think. That is hard to visualize if you’ve never coded. Programming helps develop design and problem-solving skills that are foundational for later academic success. Rewriting spelling words 3x in ABC order doesn’t do that. Nor does monotonous skill-n-drill math homework sheets. Our approach of avoiding, rather than embracing, programming skills is dangerous because we are risking leaving an entire generation of would-be-coders behind. Young children are actually interested in this. They love seeing how things work, how to make them move, and how to deliver commands. Their inquisitive minds are ripe for these experiences. Instead, we are focusing more on other more testable skills like close-reading and break apart math. While those may be necessary as well, it should not be at the expense of learning a vital skill to the world economy right now and in the future. These stand alone hours and days (I call them ‘side-shows’) are really useless. It might pique a child’s interest in the topic, but then what? Can they continue coding on school time? Can they get a loaner laptop from the school to take home and continue coding? Can they skip a math worksheet if they can make the purple alien fly across the screen instead? What is the point of what we are doing now with programming in schools and what goals or problems are we looking to solve? Right now, I believe we are just looking to check the box as more of a PR stunt; “Do your students code?” Yes. We have computer science week because American schools don’t yet see the value in getting ALL students to learn to program. Add the fact that there is no standardized test for it and you can piece together why we’ve failed our children to date.

According to the the recent joint ACM and CSTA report, “Running on Empty”: “In 2009 and 2010, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) conducted a joint study and found that most public schools in the U.S. focus only on the consumer aspects of using computers.”

Meanwhile, here’s a sampling of what schools in the rest world are doing.

In Estonia, the new programming initiative is looking “to turn children from avid consumers of technology into developers of technology.”

In England, the entire computer technology curriculum was redeveloped so students as young as 5 are learning programming skills in the classroom and algorithms. No need for a hour of code there and some fancy posters and political photo-ops.

In Hong Kong, they are looking to have programming taught in at least 20% of the primary schools by 2016.

Even in tech-rich Singapore, they are starting to move towards teaching the little ones how to program. For years, they’ve been like American kids and viewed as just consumers of technology.

There are thousands upon thousands of programming jobs right here in America. A recent search for just one term (computer programming) returns over 58,000 job listings in just one job listing site. Change the search term to app programming, mobile programming, software developer or any other relevant combination and you will find thousands upon thousands of openings. Many of these won’t be filled by Americans. At what point to we seriously look at ourselves and ask why? The American job market has been dubbed as being in bad shape, but improving. All along thousands of ‘high-tech’ positions have remained open and there for the taking. Our society wasn’t ready to fill the need. Our society was (is) still looking for the job descriptions of the 1980s. Will we allow this to happen again in the next version of the worldwide digital revolution? Will our young students be able to develop and create ‘things’ like this:

Forget the hour of code. Really. Do your students and children a favor and give them hours of meaningful coding instead. Weave it into daily school activities. Encourage them to spend less time tapping away at Angry Birds and more time figuring out what makes the birds fly.

Get your students and children learning programming with these resources:
Tynker
HopScotch
Scratch  and ScratchJr
Move the Turtle
Learning to code while playing Minecraft

What Does Unchecked Tech Spending Look Like?

So, here’s why unchecked spending on tech costs taxpayers, teachers, and students. I predict a similar situation in NY after the recent passing of the $2 billion NY Smarter Schools Bond. Are the systems currently in place able to track what will be purchased under that bond? Doubt it. Do your local districts have control over their tech inventory right now? Doubt it. Ask ’em what their annual IT audits look like. Is everything accounted for? Having been responsible for the audit in a local district many years ago, if only for a brief time since I inherited it as a job task, I can tell you with certainty that most districts can’t match their in-use inventory with actual live databases. Old and outdated equipment is probably equally an inventory mess.

One story from the west coast:
FBI seizes LAUSD iPad documents; 20 boxes carted away in surprise visit
http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-fbi-agents-take-ipad-documents-from-la-school-district-20141202-story.html

One story from the east coast and closer to home:
Stringer Audit: New York City Schools Lost Track of Technology
http://observer.com/2014/12/stringer-audit-city-schools-lost-track-of-technology/

The NYC story is even more distressing than the LA one. The audit only checked 10 schools and the actual NYC DOE offices! Imagine if they looked at all 1800 schools. Disgraceful misuse of funds, equipment, and public trust. Plus, how did the prior city comptroller not uncover this? Who the heck does the annual IT audits? But hey, your kids data … that’s safe with us. Don’t worry about this. Data … we got that over here … over maybe here … or there.

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