Archives for category: New York

Fred LeBrun, a regular columnist for the Albany-Times-Union, writes that the scale of the opt out movement sends a powerful message to the President, Arne Duncan, Governor Cuomo, “and an entire ruling cabal of moronic billionaires convinced that public education can only be elevated by punitive measures and the cold imposition of numbers in a database.” He wisely recognizes that the movement was an uprising by parents, who are sick of the test-driven, data-driven policies of the past dozen years and sick of the Governor’s demand to make the consequences of the test even harsher. Parents know that this means more resources devoted to testing, less time for the arts and other subjects and activities that their children enjoy. LeBrun understands that parents are fed up with No Child Left Behind, fed up with Race to the Top, and fed up with the politicians who blindly embrace the agenda of these policies that are so harmful to genuine education.

LeBrun writes:

That’s not just an opt-out movement anymore. It’s civil disobedience, and a step away from a growing stampede. That should make elected officials squirm, and they deserve it.

But we haven’t seen the half of it yet. This coming week those same children will go back to take three days of standardized math tests — or not.

How the numbers who didn’t take the English tests will impact the numbers taking the math tests will be illuminating. It’s hard to imagine anything but a tumbling effect. Reports have surfaced that those English tests had a number of questions that were ambiguous, poorly designed and written in language too sophisticated for the age level, yet again. One parent said that the tests seem to be about creating failure, not measuring learning. She likened the exams to child abuse. Of course, since these tests are endorsed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, self-proclaimed guardian of our young minds, this couldn’t possibly be true.

Regardless how many show up for the math tests, what the parents have done so far is as strong a repudiation of national and state public policy as we have seen in a long time. These parents have given a resounding ”no” to the president, our governor, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and an entire ruling cabal of moronic billionaires convinced that public education can only be elevated by punitive measures and the cold imposition of numbers in a database.

Well, the public is not having it. Not just here in New York, but across the country. The reauthorization of No Child Left Behind in progress right now will reflect enormous national pressures to change course from a reliance on testing and the linking of teacher evaluations and student achievement to those tests. Federal funding will not be connected to meeting any federal standards, as it is now.

The New York City Public School Parents’ Blog invited readers to comment on the ELA exams, which were administered last week (this current week devotes three days to testing in math). At last reading, there were 47 comments. Some of the comments refer to specific passages on the exam, which Pearson does not allow.

Given the fact that test passages are being disclosed on Facebook and elsewhere on the Internet, Pearson and other test publishers should release their exams and write new questions. If there are thousands of questions available, it won’t hurt anyone if students read them and use them to hone their skills. No one will know what will be on the next test.

By the way, some teachers who responded to this post noticed passages from last year’s tests.

Tim Slekar, dean of education at Edgewood College in Wisconsin, recognizes that the Néw York opt out has national implications.

He links to a dismissive editorial in the Néw York Daily News that characterizes opt out as union-led, which is ridiculous. Parents don’t work for the union and don’t take orders from the union.

He writes:

“It’s fills me with such warmth to watch the media try with all its might to prop up an invalid, unreliable, and politically driven system to divert tax dollars to private companies and charter schools.

“Opt out was never and will never be an anti-testing movement. It is the ultimate reality check and newest form of civil disobedience.

“People are now opting out in large numbers because they finally understand that the results are scientifically invalid.

“Simply, the tests don’t tell us how children our doing and don’t hold anybody accountable. 25 years of testing and not a single budge in the achievement gap. 25 years of accountability and 1 trillion dollars redirected towards ACCOUNTABILITY and all we have to show for it is soaring profits for test making companies, test prep companies and data companies.

“Sorry but its over. This was never about helping our neediest children. It was always about destroying the public system, blaming teachers and then selling off our schools to the highest bidders.”

Let me add a personal note about Tim. Five years ago, he urged me to endorse opting out, and I declined. I did not want to urge anyone to break the law. Over time, I have come to realize that Tim was right. Opting out is the only way that parents have to tell legislators to stop demonizing our public schools and our teachers. Doing so requires civil disobedience. We can take action. We will be heard. Our numbers will grow until politicians stop using test scores to harm children and privatize public schools.

New York State education officials released data showing that the top-rated teachers, based on student test scores, are less likely to work in schools enrolling black and Hispanic students.

Did State Education Department officials read the VAM reports showing that VAM is statistically flawed as a measure of individual teachers? Are they aware that less than 20% of black and Hispanic students met the absurd passing mark on the state’s Common Core test for the past two years? Are they aware that test-based accountability discourages teachers from working in high-needs schools? Interesting that the article cites the leader of Michelle Rhee’s organization, TNTP (the Néw Teacher Project), whose goal is to replace experienced teachers with new hires. At the rate these so-called reforms are accepted as credible (despite evidence to the contrary), TNTP will be able to place millions of new hires.

Andrew Cuomo can put one notch on his belt. Carol Burris is stepping down. He better have a very big belt because his hatred for teachers eill drive out many from the profession. who will replace? Does he care? The much-honored principal of South Side High School in Rockville Center decided to retire early because of Cuomo’s punitive law. Morally and ethically, she could not continue to work in the environment he has created.

She said:

“We are now turning our backs on the very experiences that build on our children’s natural strengths in order to pursue higher test scores in this era of corporate reform. We have become blind to indicators of quality that can’t be demonstrated on a scan sheet.

“The opinions of billionaires and millionaires who send their own children to private schools awash in the arts hold more sway than those of us who have dedicated our lives to teaching children. In the words of our chancellor [Merryl Tisch], we who object are “noise.”

“Much to the dismay of Albany, the noise level is on the rise since the passage of a new teacher evaluation system that elevates the role of testing. I am not sure why I was shocked when the legislature actually adopted the nonsensical evaluation plan designed by a governor who is determined to break the spirit of teachers, but I was. What is even more shocking is the legislature’s refusal to admit what they did, which was to create a system in which 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation is based on test scores. Whether that denial comes from ignorance or willful deceit doesn’t matter. It is inexcusable.

“What will happen to our profession is not hard to predict. Since the state has generated student “growth” scores, the scores of 7 percent of all elementary and middle school principals are labeled ineffective. Likewise, 6-7 percent of Grades 4-8 teachers of English Language Arts and math received ineffective growth scores. That is because the metrics of the system produce a curve.

“Based on the law, we know before even one test is given that at least 7 percent of teachers and principals, regardless of their supervisors’ opinion, will need to be on an improvement plan. They will be labeled either developing or ineffective. We have no idea what growth scores for high school teachers and teachers of the arts will look like — that has been, in the words of Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, “punted” to a State Education Department. Yes, they [state lawmakers] have turned the football over to the folks whom they publicly berate for the botched rollout of the Common Core.

“Well, the legislature has woken a sleeping giant. Around the state today parents are saying “no more.” The robust opt-out movement, which began on Long Island, has now spread across rural and suburban areas in upstate New York as well. Over 75 percent of the students in Allendale Elementary School in West Seneca refused the Common Core tests today. In the Dolgeville district, the number is 88 percent. Over 70 percent of the students in the Icabod Crane Elementary and Middle School refused. On Long Island, 82 percent of Comsewogue students, 68 percent of Patchogue Medford students and 61 percent of Rockville Centre students opted out of the tests. And that is but a sample.

“This is happening because the bond between students and teachers is understood and valued by the parents we serve. They have no stomach for the inevitable increased pressures of testing. Through opt out, they are speaking loud and clear.”

“She is not going away. She was already a leader in the battle against corporate reform. She has written many posts for Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet” blog at the Washington Post. She will write more. Now she is joining the fight to save children and public education from corporate raiders full-time. Hers will be an experienced, wise voice in the fight for democratic public education.

Valerie Strauss analyzes the debate between Chancellor Merryl Tisch and me on MSNBC’s “All In With Chris Hayes.”

She includes the transcript.

What she found odd was Tisch’s resoonse right after I explained that teachers are not allowed to see how individual students answered questions, so the tests have
no diagnostic value. All that teachers see is the students’ scores and how they compare to others. There is no item analysis, no description of students’ weaknesses or strength.

Tisch answered:

“TISCH: Well, I would say that the tests are really a diagnostic tool that is used to inform instruction and curriculum development throughout the state. New York State spends $54 billion a year on educating 3.2 million schoolchildren. For $54 billion a year I think New Yorkers deserve a snapshot of how our kids are doing, how our schools are doing, how our systems are doing. There is a really important data point.”

She began by saying that the Common Core standards and tests would close the achievement gap, although there is no evidence for that claim. Then she said the tests are a valuable diagnostic tool, but they don’t provide enough information to perform that function. Then she said the tests would show how our schools were doing, which I disagree with, because the passing mark was set artificially high, guaranteeing that most children would fail.

Unfortunately I had no opportunity to respond.

The resounding success of the opt out movement in Néw York state prompted a state senator to introduce a bill to exempt the highest-performing districts from Governor Cuomo’s test-based teacher evaluation plan.

Presumably the advocates of the plan hope to take the steam out of the opt out movement. Divide and conquer. Apparently high-stakes will be for the middle class and the poor, not the affluent high-performing districts.

Call it segregated testing. None for the rich. Only for peons.

A parent reported in an email to me that questions from the ELA tests are plastered on Facebook and other social media, despite Pearson’s efforts to monitor students’ comments on FB or Twitter. While many thousands of parents have opted out, some students are engaging in civil disobedience by copying test questions and releasing them. I read one long and rambling passage written in what I imagine was cowboy slang. I won’t reproduce it because I don’t want to be sued by Pearson.

Teachers are reporting readability levels that are 2-4 grade levels above students’ age/grade. They are also reporting incomprehensible reading passages. A poem on the 6th grade test baffled students and teachers alike.

No one has a final talley on opt outs, but they are likely to exceed 200,000. Wow! Last year it was 60,000.

I have been told by a very high-ranking official in Néw York that the sheer number of opt outs will invalidate the governor’s plan to use the scores to evaluate teachers.

There is so much wrong with these tests and so little willingness to listen by the governor or state board, that only massive civil disobedience was left to parents and students. They are acting in the spirit iof a great American tradition: civil disobedience. Don’t Tread on Me.

Long Island, Néw York, is indeed the epicenter of opt out. The numbers are coming in, and they are historic. Never before have so many parents withheld their children from state testing to protest the overuse and misuse of testing.

The Long Island Press continues to be the best source of information for LI activism, and its reporter Jaime Franchi continues to provide excellent coverage (by contrast, the Néw York Times had not a single word about the statewide and national opt outs, but a front-page story about the Atlanta educators who were sentenced to jail). The corporate-owned Newsday has a larger circulation but has been consistently hostile to teachers and opting out. This is odd because the populous island that is mostly suburban has some of the best public schools in the state.

Franchi writes:

“With day one of three controversial Common Core ELA (English Language Arts) examinations for grades three through eight completed in New York State, the total score of students refusing to take the tests continues to rise exponentially.

“Compiled by Jeanette Deutermann, founder of anti-Common Core Facebook group “Long Island Opt Out” and a founding member of New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE), a coalition of 50 parent and teacher organizations who oppose the standardized tests, Long Island school officials—including Board of Education members, administrators and educators, she says—are reporting an astounding number of test refusals.

“As of press time, her preliminary unofficial count from more than half the 124 school districts on Long Island had already tallied more than 62,000 students opting out—more than last year’s total figure for the entire state and double the 30,000 students from across Long Island who refused the tests last year—according to a Google Drive spreadsheet on Long Island Opt Out’s Facebook page. Comsewogue School District, home base of vocal public education advocates including Dr. Joe Rella, its superintendent, and Beth Dimino, an eighth grade science teacher and president of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association, who stood as a “conscientious objector” earlier this year and vowed to refuse to administer Common Core exams to students, saw 82 percent of their eligible students refuse the test–a new record for that district.

“Sisi Wong Townson, co-president of the Plainedge Middle School PTA, reports that a record-shattering 74 percent of Plainedge students opted out of the test yesterday, including an entire third-grade class. A vocal opponent of high-stakes standardized testing, she testified against Common Core before New York State legislators two years ago drawing upon her personal experience as a student in Hong Kong.”

Duchess County in Néw York reports high numbers of opt outs at schools across the county.

“Eleven of Dutchess’ 13 public school districts provided the Journal with some information about this year’s English Language Arts test refusal rates, which began on Tuesday for grades 3-8. More than 20 percent of students refused at a majority of Dutchess districts….

“Webutuck district mom Jessica Elliot said her 4th-grader “will refuse the tests for the second year in a row. These tests are not used to drive instruction, and they are not a fair evaluation of student progress or teacher effectiveness.”


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