Why We Refused the NYS Assessments

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” –Mahatma Gandhi

Let me start out by stating that I am not a testing or assessment expert. Nor is my wife. We are both career educators, former elementary teachers, and college educated through teacher preparation programs. More importantly, we are concerned parents who began watching and tracking Common Core implementation and the rapid, unproven, movement towards more high-stakes testing in our state, New York, three years ago. Currently, our 3rd grade son is doing very well in school. He’s a good test taker (whatever that means) and wasn’t concerned about the new NYS assessments…except for one fact. He once stated to us that he was a little worried about them because he thought his scores on them would determine if he went on to 4th grade (they don’t). Why would an 8-year old even have to worry about that?

This post would be so enormously long if I went into detail with every little item that influenced our decision. Instead, here’s our bullet point reasons for going all “999” this spring. What may sound like paranoia, is really the connecting of the dots, so to speak, for us as parents and educators.

1. Common Core (background here)

– Someone else has already decided for teachers what should be taught and when and that someone is government. While the Governors Association and those who defend it have stated there was significant teacher input, hundreds of others refute that. When all I see my son doing is “Common Core aligned”, Pearson stamped, worksheets I know the truth. These standards were not written primarily by teachers (the group is referred to as “the secret 60”) writes Anthony Cody in 2009 (only 1 teacher) here and here. Yes, one teacher involved in the process.
– There are no standardized kids. Why the focus on so many standardized tests? The flawed assumption made by the writers of the Core was this: all children at a particular grade/age are all the same. They should learn the same, move at the same pace, and the outcome should all be the same (achieving a “proficient” score).
– We will have a child in kindergarten next year. Look at what Common Core has done to that age group and their teachers. This is “homework” for a 5 or 6-year-old?
– Our concerns are less at the moment with the actual standards themselves, but more towards the actual rushed,  untested, unproven implementation of them. We are told over and over again that these are “internationally benchmarked”, “robust,” “aligned with college and work expectations,” “rigorous,” and “evidence-based.” None of this is true. This is one huge, costly national “experiment”.
– There was minimal public engagement in the development of the Common Core. Their creation was neither grassroots nor did it emanate from the states.
– We’ve spoken with both preschool and early elementary educators who can’t believe how developmentally inappropriate the standards are. We have allowed our children’s childhood to be stripped from them. And for what? To get the 5-year old ready for his/her career? What other successful, happy, developed nation is doing that? Do you think that most students by the end of kindergarten are developmentally capable of writing a paragraph complete with a topic sentence and details? That is what the Common Core demands of five-year olds. Tell me, does this look like fun when learning math? Or, conformity? Kindergarten literally translated from German means “children’s garden.” Listen to Sir Ken Robinson talk about creativity in schools (or the lack thereof) here and here. His quote has been ingrained in my mind for the last two years: “I can’t imagine that there is a kid in the world who gets out of bed in the morning wondering what they can do to raise their country’s reading standards.”
– Common Core, for parents, has become an information dump. Just read through this widely circulated “memo”, posted right on the front page of our local school district’s web site. Get all that?
– The only state to have administered Common Core tests so far, to date, is Kentucky. The number of students who scored ‘proficient’ or better in reading in math dropped by a third or more depending on grade level. Why weren’t both CCSS and the new testing not field tested AT LENGTH, maybe for a two-year minimum across several states before a nationwide push to adoption? Why the rush to adoption? Easy answer – follow the money.
– CCSS implementation is only in full just being rollout this year in NYS. Testing on it, already?
– Many states are currently looking to get out, or “pause”, Common Core implementation. Review the Bill Status Tracker here. Ask yourself, “Why are they doing this after agreeing to adopt CCSS?” At time of this posting, Indiana was the latest to pause CCSS implementation.
– Here is a direct quote from the NYSED website on the Implementation of the Common Core Standards: “Instead, the results from these new assessments will give educators, parents, policymakers, and the public a more realistic picture of where students are on their path to being well prepared for the world that awaits them after they graduate from high school.” Results? We are told repeatedly that all we (and teachers) will see is a number indicating proficient or not. Are these tests given to students ages 8-14 really going to explain developmentally whether a child is ready for college or a career? Every child develops psychologically at different times in their lives. But, the state doesn’t care about that.
– “The creators of the Common Core standards have now taken jobs with testing companies which stand to make millions of dollars developing tests based on the standards they created.”  In fact, the main developer of the Core, David Coleman, now works for the College Board. Yes, that College Board.  More here
– NY State’s exclusive $34 million contract with Pearson to supply all the materials we will ever need to “be proficient”. That’s just what has been agreed upon to date, on record. Enough said. More on this topic, in-depth, at a later date.

Resources:
“Eight problems with Common Core Standards”
“Choking on the Common Core Standards”
“Why I Cannot Support the Common Core Standards”
Carol Burris’s Washington Post op-ed covers many of the problems with the new Common Core
“Rotten to the Core”
“Common Core testing begins in NY — but are exams ready for prime time?”

2. Over-testing

– High stakes testing is not about learning; it’s about penalizing.  Because of the wide spread use of these scores, it forces good teachers to teach-to-the test. We’ve seen it first hand where the worksheets sent home day-after-day for homework look exactly like practice test questions, whether old practice questions or some items taken directly from the engageNY web site (where they don’t call them practice test questions).
– This is what we’ve seen this year with our 3rd grade son: benchmark testing, weekly “regular” end of unit type tests, CoGATs, NYS ELA, NYS Math, end-of-year benchmarks, etc. And that’s all just thrown at the 8/9 year olds as if  they can handle all that. Three years ago, Grade 3 testing time was 160 minutes.  This year, Grade 3 testing time was 410 minutes.
– What we need are more leaders like Montgomery County (MD) superintendent who called for 3 year moratorium on standardized testing.
– Standardized testing does not encourage the genius in every child. It stifles creativity and curiosity and leads students to believe that there is always only one right answer for any, and every, problem, and one right way to get there.
– It has created an educational system overloaded with worksheets and drill, skill, and kill.
– Tally up ALL the prep time spent on the tests. All of it, not just the practice tests in class, but those sent home (many over vacation time periods), the days teachers are away to learn about all the testing procedures, etc. All wasted instructional time that teachers could be using to further the learning in our classrooms.
– The relationship of the new testing to teacher performance has never been tested and is challenged by educational experts over and over. Why go with a full on, national shift to implement untested practices and procedures? No one at the state level is listening.
– I hate to say it, but as I understand testing, this is all just the beginning.
– Students are given discrete reading passages they have never seen before and expected to answer questions about them, supposedly demonstrating certain “skills”? Since I’m writing this after the spring NYS testing period, hundreds of stories and posts have been written about the testing experiences. Take a look at the NYS ELA Feedback forum and read the comments. Wonderful, eh?
– Anecdotes like this one abound online: “Bonnie Strope teaches second grade in Odessa-Montour schools. She spoke against high-stakes standardized tests for students in kindergarten, first and second grades. A member of the Odessa-Montour Teachers Association, she recounted witnessing kindergarten students line up to enter a computer lab so they could learn the skills needed to complete tests by computer. “This is far too young!” she protested.” More here
– Mingled in with all the yearly testing we also have Pearson field-testing (overview). A violation of child labor laws, perhaps? If Pearson wants our kids to take practice tests, then can pay the parents who permit their kids to sit AFTER school time in their testing center to take the practice tests. The fact that districts permit this on school time is a disgrace.

Resources:
Press Briefing on the Harms of High Stakes Testing in NY (at least watch it up to minute 22 or so)
Meeting of Long Island education leaders at Hofstra April 10, 2013, “More Than Just a Number
Field Tests: Unfair Burden on Students, by Fred Smith
Standardized Testing Creates ‘Toxic Environment’ in Schools, Professor Says
Rochester, NY School Board Member Says Her Son Won’t Take State Mandated Test
Mapping the Backlash Against High-Stakes Testing (Infographic)
Frontline “Testing. Teaching. Learning?” series with great resources (link to interview with IOWA test maker)

Frontline 2001 interview with James Popham, professor and former test maker, about the uses and misuses of standardized tests here and Future of Education interview here

3. Financial cost

This is one of the big unknowns at this moment. Go ahead, ask your district to provide to you in writing how much they have spent on the move to CCSS and the new testing. Ask them in terms of dollar amounts and manpower hours. I have not seen one district clearly able to identify how much testing, and the move to CCSS, has cost their district. If you can find one, please feel free to comment below. How are districts even supposed to budget for this? I am currently working on a FOIL request for this information anticipating the request to be denied.
– The Rockville Centre Schools Superintendent, Dr. William Johnson, a former president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said that his district alone has spent $550,000 to $1 million annually for test preparation and administration. He admitted to “low-balling” that figure.
– “Middletown School District Superintendent Ken Eastwood issued a letter last month calling on state and education leaders to not weigh the test grades in teachers’ evaluation formulas, which he said count toward 25 percent of their evaluation as per state law. The Middletown school board voted last week to urge an end to the over-reliance on tests. Eastwood said student results will still fall largely along socioeconomic lines, regardless of the new standards, tests and evaluations. “People are finally getting totally disgusted with what’s going on here,” said Eastwood. Cost of implementing the tests in the next few years will also increase, according to the New York State School Boards Association. The Association said the cost will exceed the federal Race to the Top money to fund it. That will put the onus to pay for the changes on cash-strapped local districts, said the Association. Districts will eventually be required to take the new tests online, Eastwood said. “When we have to tell parents that we’re going to cut music, art, sports or other programs because we have to implement online testing, that’s when people are really going to go berserk,” he said.” More here
– Many experts have already stated that the shift to CCSS and these new tests has already been well more expensive than the federal RTTT dollars received in return.

Resources:
National Cost of Aligning to CCS report here (Feb 2012 from Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research) $15.8 billion nationally over 7 years
[Got any New York State information on cost of CCSS and testing implementation? Can’t locate ANY specifics on this yet.]

4. Data-mining (note that this topic is so huge right now that I am devoting an entire page to it…in development)

– Data collection begins in kindergarten and will continue through all school years, college, and once that child enters the workforce. Literally the potential for 20 years worth of educational data shared OUTSIDE the district and outside the state level.
– FERPA was quietly adjusted in 2011 so the feds would permit…what? Timing is everything.
– inBloom Inc. and NY State…what a partnership, huh? The Reuters article that really drew national interest in this issue and other relevant info here
Screen shots of what inBloom plans to collect for states. inBloom is passing the buck back to districts to say what can and can’t be sent into the database, but then schools say it is up to state guidelines. It is nearly impossible to get straight answers on this topic right now from anyone. I can’t support these efforts until we get details from districts, the state, the feds, and the database partners.
– CBS2 NY report: Experts, Parents, Lawmakers Blast Database Providing Personal Student Information To Vendors
– The New York State Education Department has committed to participate in a “Shared Learning Collaborative” (SLC) with other states whose assessments reflect the Common Core Standards. The SLC is designed to provide analysis of student data so that teachers can access custom analysis and curricular recommendations based upon it. According to the State Education Department, data security will be protected through legally binding agreements as they understand that “the protection of student privacy is and will remain the priority throughout the development and implementation of SLC.” All districts receiving Race to the Top funding will have their data included in the analysis. So the question, among many others, remains: what data are our schools sending to NYS? What is NYS sharing with the 3rd party companies? Good luck trying to find an answer.
– I am trying to find out specifics from my local district as to what data points, or sets, have previously been shared with the NY State Ed Dept, or what the data sharing plans are for the future. Perhaps I am the first person within this huge district to ever ask or even question this?  I hope not.

Resources:
See my complete page on this topic here

“If not us, who? If not now, when?” – Hillel the Elder

5. Use of the scores

– From Carol Burris resolution against high-stakes testing: “All tests and student results should be available to teachers and parents after test administration. They should be used only to inform parents and teachers about a child’s learning and to improve instruction. Tests should exist to serve students not politicians or for-profit testing companies.”
– There is undue pressure on kids to succeed on tests in order for teachers to have an acceptable evaluation. The pressure comes from many angles. Something is drastically wrong with that picture.
– In NYS, standardized tests were originally developed for evaluating programs in schools. That has dramatically changed as these tests are now tied to receiving money, evaluating teachers, closing schools, and more.
– Whatever feedback is given is not timely as it is sent over the summer. Students, teachers, and parents will have no clue what questions were wrong. Does not seem to drive future instruction now does it.
– Who is being assessed? Teachers? Administrators? Students? The implementation of the new Common Core Standards?
– The minute testing is tied to funding, it loses strength as an assessment tool for student learning. Conformity is then about money, not learning.
Campbell’s Law: Raise the skates on the test, you corrupt the test. Yup. Good job NYS, done that.
– The tests were originally designed pass/fail and to identify AIS, however, now they are being used as 20-40% of a teacher’s APPR evaluation and that is unjust. In addition, the tests have become a huge for profit business. Millions of dollars are going to test companies to purchase the test and any preparation materials. What if those millions went to assisting students, buying modern technology, and providing professional development?
– Golfer Tom Watson once said, “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.” How true.

Resources:
See the resource links up under item #2 above. All relevant here as well.

6. The Corporate, For Profit, Angle

– As much as the rush to implement new testing and CCSS has been a political move, it has also neatly linked big business with education. Perhaps permanently.
– In New York, Pearson Education currently has a five-year, $32 million contract to administer state tests and provides other “testing services” to the State Education Department. It also recently received a share of a federal Race to the Top grant to create what the company calls the “next-generation” of online assessments.
– Pearson is profiteering off our children while using the money to lobby in state capitals for more testing. They have also designed the tests to be so difficult that even the NYSED indicated that the failure rate will dramatically increase this year. I suspect Pearson will swoop in with all new testing guides, workshops, practice tests, worksheets, books, web sites, and tools teachers can use to increase those scores. Oh, and this will all be at a NEW cost to schools. More here

Resources:
New Questions About Trips Sponsored by Education Publisher
Enough is Enough–Pearson Education Fails the Test Again and Again

7. Parental rights to direct the upbringing of their children

– Parents’ federal constitutional rights: The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents posses the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” Furthermore, the Court declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35) The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten “liberties” protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (262 U.S. 399).

In recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children’s education, the Court has stated, “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder.” (Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158)

Resources:
Decisions of the United States Supreme Court Upholding Parental Rights as “Fundamental”
Congress Introduces Constitutional Amendment for Parental Rights

___________________________

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” ~John Quincy Adams

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4 Comments

  1. Dr. Friend

     /  May 16, 2013

    In June Pearson and NY State are field testing items for the next test. Participation is not mandatory.
    SAY YES TO LEARNING AND NO TO FIELD TESTING
    What New York Parents Need to Know
    What is a “field test?”  Field tests are used to “try out” new questions for future exams. Some field test items were included in the New York State tests our children took over a six-day period in April. While these items don’t count toward students’ scores, they make the exams longer and contribute to children not finishing.
     This June most schools are scheduled to administer field tests to one or two grades in English Language Arts (ELA) or math. Parents have not been notified about these extra exams, which are due to be given the week of June 3rd-7th. Individual schools are allowed to choose the day for testing.
    Why should I be concerned about field testing?
     Field testing is integral to the larger system of high-stakes testing. State test scores are used to decide whether students are promoted and schools are closed, and starting next year, whether teachers keep their jobs. These high stakes encourage schools to focus on testing rather than meaningful learning activities.
     Approximately one-third of instructional time during the school year is lost to test preparation and taking the ELA and math exams. High-stakes testing drastically reduces the time available for history, science, gym and music and the arts, as well as field trips and hands-on projects.
     When our children take field tests, they serve as unpaid research subjects for Pearson, a private test development company. When adults take field tests, Pearson offers them a $100 voucher for books.
     Even though field tests benefit a private corporation and not students, parents are not informed nor asked to consent to the use of their children’s valuable education time for commercial purposes.
    What are the consequences of opting out – for my child, the teacher(s) and the school?
     There are NO consequences of refusing to allow your child to take field tests.
     A set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) released by the NYC Department of Education in April 2013 affirms that there are no consequences.
    How do I opt my child out of field testing?
     Notify the principal in writing that you refuse to have your child participate in field testing. Here is a sample letter you can use or modify. If you feel strongly about this decision, please invite other parents to join you.
     Even if your child is not scheduled to take a field test this year, you can still inform the principal that you do not support field testing during school hours.
     For more information, vist the Change the Stakes website or contact boycottfieldtestnyc@gmail.com.
    Change the Stakes is a group of parents and educators working to reduce the harm caused by high stakes-testing, which we believe must be replaced by valid forms of student, teacher, and school assessment. See our brochure:
    The Truth About High-Stakes Testing in New York City Public Schools

    Reply
  2. The corporate-state education reform agenda won’t stop until it’s effectively stopped. Consider reading this comprehensive essay on what corporate-state education reform is all about and thinking of more concrete measures to end it: http://www.scribd.com/doc/106337306/THE-CHICAGO-PUBLIC-SCHOOLS-ALLERGIC-TO-ACTIVISM

    Reply
  1. Why My Children Will Not Take State Assessments | mrsmomblog
  2. NYS Field Testing Information | The "999"ers: Something is not right.

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