It’s Spring Testing Season Again – Here’s Why We Still Refuse

It has been a while. So…

NY state testing begins this week for all in grades 3-8. To show you how absurd these tests are at this point here’s some details about where we are right now and some highlights of what the opt out *cough/refusal*movement has been able to accomplish:

1. There are zero ramifications for anyone (parent or child) who refuses to take the exams. That alone should immediately make you wonder why we waste millions of dollars to administer them.
2. It is still very much unclear what the exam results are used for. The state has put a temporary hold on coupling the exam results to teacher performance. It can’t be used to grade or judge a student, school or district, and the teachers and admin I have spoken with indicated they don’t use the scores for any purpose. The 3rd graders take the exams and move to 4th grade regardless of results. They are with a new teacher, classmates and curriculum. No adjustments are made to teaching style, methods, content, etc. However, this may not be the case everywhere.
3. At the start of this movement, state testing was two separate 3-day windows (ELA 3 days, Math 3 days). As a result of this movement, not only was the window downsized to two days for each subject, but the number of questions was decreased. That would not have occurred without the movement. It is still too many, especially the longer window for computer based testing.
4. The tests will again be untimed. That must be brutal on the children struggle with time management (who doesn’t!) or those who stress and ponder over their answers. How do you tell them to stop? “The bus is coming so you must end the exam.”
5. What’s being tested here? The kids? The teachers? The curriculum? The standards? I’ve STILL not heard NYSED officials clearly state WHY we have these exams. A test this significant can only have one purpose. Having multiple purposes dilutes the outcome.
6. The standards used to guide these tests, and the creation of them, are completely unproven and were in fact an experiment tied to federal funding. No other nation tests this aggressively. No other nation rolls out new standards and tests on them in such a high stakes manner as we did several years back when this movement really gained steam. New standards that teachers hadn’t fully learned about nor prepared for.
7. I think the below statement from the NYSUT is about as accurate as it gets.

“Student performance on the state grade 3–8 tests is contrary to the vast academic successes at the high school level. 60% of grades 3‐8 students are identified as not proficient on the state 3‐8 ELA and Math exams. Statewide proficiency rates that hover around 40% are wholly inconsistent with the excellent performance levels on Regents exams and with rising graduation rates.

It would be reasonable to assume that if students were not proficient on their 3‐8 state exams that they would not be prepared to successfully pass Regents exams. However, this is not the case; for example, in 2016 24% of the 8th grade students that took the 8th Grade Math assessment were identified as proficient, but one year later when most of these students took the Algebra I Regents exam 74% passed. Similarly in 2013, only 31% of 7th graders were proficient on the state ELA exam and four years later in 11th grade, when most of those 7th graders took the ELA common Core Regents exam, the Regents passage rate was 84%. What is wrong with these assessments? They are clearly not measuring student performance and proficiency levels in an accurate manner.”

(As quoted from https://www.nysutorg/news/2018/april/open-letter-on-proficiency-rates)

8. “Over the past three years, Commissioner Elia has listened to the concerns of parents and teachers and made significant changes to the exams as a result,” said Emily DeSantis, spokeswoman for the state Education Department. “It’s up to parents to decide if their children should take the tests, and we want them to have all the facts so they can make an informed decision.” That’s an acknowledgement that we’ve not yet heard. Yes, it is up to parents. Not the school, state or the feds. Finally granting parents, dare I say it, control over their child’s education.

(As quoted from https://www.newsday.com/long-island/education/ela-math-opt-out-test-refusals-1.17901520)

9. The overall cost of these assessments is still unknown, at both the state level and within every individual district. All I see is a guess at costs. My home district is, in my opinion, in major financial trouble. Rising costs of nearly everything, including these tests, and lower enrollment year after year spell a disaster in the making. Tally up the cost for subs alone and you’ll be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars statewide.

That said, the main thought I keep coming back to is this: To date, my eighth grade honors student has yet to take ANY state assessments. There have been zero repercussions. He goes from grade to grade, year to year, subject to subject (now prepping for high school) and there is zero impact of him missing the exams. I ask myself over and over … so what is the point? If he can go this far and do this well, why are we giving these assessments AT ALL? Why can’t all the kids bypass the exams and just be kids, not a data point.

Enough of the global competition for high scores and comparison. We aren’t Finland, nor Singapore, nor Japan.

Bring back the California Achievement Tests (CATs) in grades 4 and 8!!! (Yes, I am that old and I’m partially kidding. No, not really.)

Side note: Look at the picture of the kids sitting at the computer taking the assessments in this Newsday post (here). Adult size keyboards, no room to use the mouse, wrong eye to monitor height, wrong brightness level and room lighting, etc. An awful setup for such a high stakes exam, don’t you think?

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I failed the gym test today

My 4 year old came home from her third day of kinder today (which is her third day of public schooling ever) and said: “I failed the gym test today. I didn’t know any of the answers.” She can’t read yet mind you. Fix this mess in New York!

Who do you think is getting a call on Friday morning? Followed by nasty emails to the Superintendent, our Regent, Roger Tilles, and new NYSED Commish Elia. This only strengthens my resolve to fight the madness that is NYS public elementary school testing. We fought this for the last few years to prevent this exact scenario; to prevent our youngest from being exposed to high stakes tests used to evaluate her teacher BEFORE she can even read. Now I feel like I have failed.

Make a 4 year old uneasy on her third day so much so that the first thing she says when she comes home is she failed. How does she even know what passing or failing is? Who does this? We certainly don’t talk to her about tests, and we are very careful in our home conversation about the refusal movement.

The powers that be have lost sight of the meaning of the German word kindergarten: children’s garden.

The Need for a Return of Local Control

The decision this week, for those not following, by the Lee County School Board in Florida to NOT have their entire district opt-out of their state testing is showing the nation exactly why we need to refuse the over testing of our kids; loss of local control. The board listened to those who voted them in, voted to refuse the testing, then was pressured by the state and others to rescind the vote, decided to revote, and went ahead and over turned it. The state came in with multiple threats then threw in the loss of federal money. That’s what flipped this decision. The LOCAL school community wanted to make their own local decisions and they were strong-armed by both the state threats and the federal money dangling at the end of the line. That is why we fight on. It is exactly the situation you would see here on Long Island, I suspect, if a similar situation were to arise. Follow the money. As one commenter on the article linked below said:

“…as long as they need the funding…”
NOT “as long as it’s good for students,” NOT “as long as it helps schools,” but “as long as they need the funding.”
There it is, in a nutshell.

Click here to read one of the many reports about Lee County.

Don’t let them hide behind “the law.” Laws can be overturned, changed, etc. Force the schools, school boards, and parents to pressure the politicians to “fix it.” The reforms brought to ALL of our schools now are not moving forward because they will benefit the kids. They just aren’t. You can’t find me one instance of any of these reforms (e.g., Common Core standards, new high-stakes testing, massive data collection efforts, etc.) being tested and piloted for many years in a district and shown to have helped kids learn. It is all speculation. All an experiement. It is time we end the experiments and let local schools figure out what is need in their own communities. Standards used as guidelines? Fine. However, that’s not what we have now.

PS: The Palm Beach County School Board in Florida is also investigating opting out of all state testing.

The Fight to Return NY Schools Back to Local Communities Enters Year 3

Back to school already? That’s right parents and that means it’s time for that game we like to call “high stakes testing that is used to judge and grade your teachers and principals, but has no real purpose”. Have you asked your school and/or principals when testing starts? You think it is the spring-time you say? Guess again. Here’s the early testing schedule for our local district:

Math SLO and Local – September 4th and 5th
ELA SLO and Local – September 9th and 10th
Special Area SLO and Local – September 8th-19th

That’s right. Starting the year off with a few high stakes tests (these count toward the teacher’s APPR scores and can be a test of content the kids have not yet learned…a real confidence booster there.) For our kids’ teachers the APPR score is 60% observation, 20% State tests and SLOs, 20% Local assessment.

NYSED’s previous statement that referred to “no standardized testing for K-2” is BS. There was none to begin with. These are not considered standardized tests.

Now here’s the kicker…among all the others…ALL of our local area school districts are spending millions to give, track, and monitor these early assessments. And for what? Neither the SLO or the local is being used to guide instruction. There are purely used as a “judgement” tool at the waste of precious early bonding and learning time in the classroom. And guess what? NYSED wants the tests scores to count for 40% and get rid of the SLOs and locals. Can you say even more “teach to the test” worksheets and curriculum. (see here)

So, yeah…here we go again and welcome back to yet another year of meaningless high stakes testing. The fight to bring back local control of our classrooms enters the 3rd year for not just our family, but pretty much for all of the Long Islanders who have researched, studied, questioned, and fought hard against the well-funded corporate driven takeover of the state/local public school system. This will most certainly be the most important yet because once our state gets too far into this mess we call “education reform”, there will be no turning back.

I ask you fellow Long Island parents of school-aged children: take note of what happens in your child’s classroom this year. What kind of work comes home? What is hanging on the walls when you visit? What does school look like before and after winter break? What message about testing is your kid’s teacher conveying? What do YOU want your kid’s classroom to look like? Do you want performance or innovation?

Wish your kids well this week and help them achieve happiness and success. Tell them to always do their best and to try not to let the pressures of school break them down. Wish your kid’s teachers and principals well this week and tell them you will help to fix the mess that is NY public education.

Oh, and don’t forget those green laces, bracelets, and scrunchies.

All I Can Do to Say Thanks

Thank you to my online friends and followers for putting up with my education posts and not all blocking me, unfriending me, or unfollowing me. At least, not yet.

Whether you had your kids refuse testing or not, or if you discussed it with family and friends or not, today was one of the greatest days in parent activism this nation has ever seen, led by knowledgeable and concerned NY parents.

Last year it was estimated between 1000-1200 refused the tests on Long Island out of nearly 215000 who could be tested. Today, we are over 15000 refusers and still counting out of 204000 possible test takers. My home district, where my son was only one of 3 in his whole building last year, topped out at 1398 refusers, 20% of test takers. His school had 32 this year. These numbers will go up in 3 weeks when the math exams are thrown at these kids. There were massive numbers in many districts. Numbers so high the tests are completely invalid and these kids are “More Than a Score.”

Consider this: no other nation over-tests their kids, especially their youngest and most vulnerable (those with special needs), every year from grades 3-12 with countless hours of high stakes exams. None. We stand alone in abusing these kids, hammering their confidence, and killing their creativity all so we can “evaluate their teacher”. Actually, so we can find a way of labeling them ineffective all because these kids could not sit for 540 minutes of high pressure exams. Almost every other nation simply tests students entering high school (or vocational school) and exiting. No, not us.

LI Principal Carol Burris, Education Historian Diane Ravitch, and CW Post Professor Arnold Dodge can sum up this movement much more eloquently than I can. Please read their thoughts here and here and here respectively.

So, one of the many points of this movement was not to coddle our kids, teach them to rebel against authority, nor shake up the schools this week. It was to send a message to Albany. A clear and loud message to NYS Education Commissioner John King and our Governor Andrew Cuomo: You refused to hear us for 2 years, now deal with us. And look what breaking news we have today. Low and behold…it’s our Governor with a “deal.”

Now, Cuomo plans Common Core changes for teacher evaluations

Oh and PS: just watched him on ch 5 news and he said the tests will not count for students and it will be good practice for them. I don’t even think he can make that decision. So, the kids now know it means $&@” and will not care how they do. How could he possibly allow that to be part of teacher evaluations. What a mess!!!!

All You Need to Refuse the NYS Elementary State Exams

Send the letter below via email and snail mail (hand delivered) to your child’s teacher(s) and principal. Refer to NYSAPE if you receive any push-back. Add in the Science exam if your child is in the 4th or 8th grade.

That is all.

Dear (name of administrator)

We are writing today to formally inform the district of our decision to refuse to allow our child (name) , to participate in the ELA and Math standardized assessments imposed on children across the state for the 2013-2014 school year. Our refusal should in no way reflect on the teachers, administration, or school board. This was not an easy decision for us, but we feel that we have no other choice. We simply see these tests as harmful, expensive, and a waste of time and valuable resources.

We believe in and trust our highly qualified and dedicated teachers and administration. We believe in the high quality of teaching and learning that occur in our child’s school. We hope our efforts will be understood in the context in which they are intended: to support the quality of instruction promoted by the school, and to advocate for what is best for all children. Our schools will not suffer when these tests are finally gone, they will flourish.

We do apologize in advance for the inconvenience or scrutiny that this decision may cause the administration, the school, and staff.

Sincerely,
(your name)

My Notes From the Open Forum Led by S.C.A.P.E

I posted the message below in the Lace to the Top Facebook group. My notes from tonight’s meeting follow the comment. Next time you attend a local forum, bring a friend, a parent, a teacher, a concerned neighbor. If you add one each time, you will have an over flowing room very quickly.

Special thanks to the S.C.A.P.E. advocates for organizing this. Would love to speak at the next one. (Stands for Sachem Community Alliance for Public Education.) We can try to get a web site going for the group and community as a place to organize and share content, especially some of the background knowledge. I have a lot of info right here on my bog that may help.  Check the links above and to the right. I am working on the data-mining page above.
___________________

Tonight I got to meet a rock star. Yes THAT rock star. Dr. Joe Rella (and his lovely wife)!!! What an honor to hear him speak to our local group in Sachem. Blog post pending, but it was great to hear him tell the story of the original letter that started the movement. How every superintendent doesn’t think like him is beyond me. Intelligent, reasonable, rational, informed, and most importantly caring. All he wants ia for the kids to be kids and to right the wrongs. It is inspirational to hear him speak. He had his green laces on and I had my laces, glowing necklace, and bracelet on then ran home to have green ice cream (again this week). People are starting to connect the dots. Even if it’s only 5 today, then 10 next week. Just keep telling them to bring a friend and spread the message. These 3 quotes sum up hearing Dr. Rella tonight:

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
“You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result.”
“In a civilized country when ridicule fails to kill a movement it begins to command respect.”
-All from Mahatma Gandhi

_________________________

Thank you to Jeannie Cozetti for opening the night by telling your story and explaining Race to the Top and how it impacts our state. One thing you said really stood out for me: “Don’t let a test score define your kids and their teachers.” Oh, and you nicknamed Sara Wottawa the “Fact Machine”!

Thank you to Doug Smith from NYS Assemblyman Al Graf’s office from speaking to us and starting Assemblyman Graf’s position on this important issues. If you have not signed the Fix New York Schools Petition yet do it tonight! Support his legislation in the NY Assembly Bill A.7994 to withdraw from Common Core and Race to the Top.

Thank you to Mary Calamia for sharing the details about the very harmful physical and psychological effects of the Common Core Learning Standards and high-stakes testing and its impact on our children.  I will link to your written testimony at the NYS Assembly Education Committee hearing here. Thank you for being such a great advocate for these kids and helping to put an end to this madness. Your’s is a story everyone should hear.
– Normal year she gets 20 student referrals
– Now 50% of case load is 8 and 9 year old
– Last October she was getting near 10-12 calls/referrals a day. Serves 20 districts.
– Lots of self mutilation as a result of stress and other school related factors
The rest of her story … I can’t even type it. It is too upsetting.

And a final, big thank you to Comsewogue Superintendent (once dubbed “America’s Superintendent”) Dr. Joe Rella. Me_Rella_VWIt was an honor to both hear you speak and talk with you, and your wife, afterward. Thank you for staying so late as well. Here’s some notes from his talk:
– Dr. Rella told his teachers not to use the state test results for anything. How can they? A 1, 2, 3, 4 with absolutely no idea how they achieved that score.
– RTtT starts with developmentally inappropriate standards. Harmful in the lower grades especially.
– State Modules not complete don’t match the standards. Districts don;t even have them all and they are supposed to test on this.
-” It is hard for kids to accept day after day that I’m a loser.”
– The scores are useless and have nothing to do with the kids. Are used for the next piece of RTtT, that is APPR, the teacher/principal evaluations. 20% of teacher eval from the state tests, 20% from local assessments (SLOs, etc.). There are high stakes here.
-“How many of you had to see a shrink after taking the Regents? None of you. Not anymore.”
– Numbers matter. Blast everyone with calls and emails. Strength in numbers.
-“We’ve gotten lazy as citizens.”
-“There is nothing right about it.”
-In his district it cost $250,000 just for administration of the tests. District got $30,000 in RTtT funds. Basic economics here.
-He sent a formal “opt-out” letter to inBloom’s CEO to request that his district’s data be removed from their system and to indicate he wasn’t participating anymore. He just received a written reply back (paraphrasing here): “Thank you for your letter. Your contract as a district is not with us. Please contact your state.” He is working on his next step.
– And on 12/22 he will be a TV star. Tune in to channel 7 at 5:30 am. (It’s a Sunday so set your DVR.)
-“Stop it. Fix it. Scrap it.”

Thank you to all the S.C.A.P.E. advocates who organized tonight’s forum. We will double the crowd next time, I promise! Sachem friends and neighbors, please join our Facebook group and get informed. Our students are more than scores.

NY Districts Withdrawing from Race to the Top (RtTT) to Protect Student Privacy

Post last updated Feb 25, 2014
Note:
Moving forward, I am only going to update the Long Island list.

Districts are finally starting to question all the student data collection, storage, and sharing that New York State is so desperate to track and use. This fall a number of districts decided it was in the best interest of their district to not select a state data daashboard system and instead withdraw, from the federal Race to the Top (RttT) program. One of the requirements for accepting RttT money was to develop, or adopt, a data dashboard to both upload data to the state and provide a view for parents and educators (a portal).

Here’s two of the recent news articles about this issue one from Lower Hudson Valley area and one from Comsewogue and perhaps the best set of questions I’ve read as proposed by the Lower Hudson Valley Counsel of School Superintendents. These are the questions to ask within your local district.

Long Island Districts
Comsewoque (here)
Hauppauge (here)
Longwood (here)
Middle Country (on page 8 in agenda here and letter here and story here)
Smithtown (here)
Southold (here)
West Islip (here)

Elsewhere in New York State:
I stopped keeping track at 20 district, but fortunately Leonie Hamison is compiling a massive NY State list posted here.

* Possibly 20 lower Hudson districts that have withdrawn? Need names there. See post here
* Districts considering doing the same include Dobbs Ferry, Hastings-on-Hudson and South Orangetown.

From Ohio: About 80 districts and charter schools across the state have backed out of the grant program since 2010 http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2013/03/10/race-to-top-grants-not-worth-costs-officials-say.html

Please use the comments below to let me know of others on Long Island, try to include relevant links, and I will continue to update the list.