Archives for category: New York

Carol Burris went to Albany to attend the trial of Sheri Lederman’s case against the state of New York, which rated her “ineffective” based on her students’ growth scores. Many other educators attended the trial, which has national implications.

Sheri is an outstanding fourth grade teacher in a high-performing district. When she learned of her poor, computer-generated rating, she was devastated. But her husband Bruce, an attorney, determined to sue the state. He gathered affidavits from some of the mation’s leading experts on teacher evaluations, as well as students, teachers, and her principal.

At the trial, the judge recognized that grading teachers on a curve made no sense.

Burris reports:

“The exasperated New York Supreme Court judge, Roger McDonough, tried to get Assistant Attorney General Galligan to answer his questions. He was looking for clarity and instead got circuitous responses about bell curves, “outliers” and adjustments. Fourth-grade teacher Sheri Lederman’s VAM score of “ineffective” was on trial.

“The more Ms. Galligan tried to defend the bell curve of growth scores as science, the more the judge pushed back with common sense. It was clear that he did his homework. He understood that the New York State Education Department’s VAM system artificially set the percentage of “ineffective” teachers at 7 percent. That arbitrary decision clearly troubled him. “Doesn’t the bell curve make it subjective? There has to be failures,” he asked.

“The defender of the curve said that she did not like the “failure” word.

“The judge quipped, “Ineffectives, how about that?” Those in attendance laughed.

“Ms. Galligan preferred the term “outlier.” Those who got ineffective growth scores were “the outliers who are not doing a good job,” the attorney said. She seemed oblivious to the fourth-grade teacher who was sitting not 10 feet away from where she stood.

“Did her students learn nothing?” Justice McDonough asked. “How could it be that she went from 14 out of 20 points to 1 out of 20 points in one year?” He noted that the students’ scores were quite good and not that different from the year before.

“Back behind the bell curve Ms. Galligan ran. As she tried to explain once again, the judge said, “Therein lies the imprecise nature of this measure.”

Burris demonstrates the irrationality of the state’s measures. Teachers in some of the lowest-performing schools were rated “effective” or “highly effective,” while more teachers is some of the state’s best schools were rated “ineffective.” Crazy!

Burris writes:

“At its core, this story is a love story. It is the story of a teacher who loves her students, her profession and justice so much that she is willing to stand up and let the world know that she was “an outlier” with an “ineffective” score.

“It was love that compelled teachers, retired and active, driving from all corners of the state to be in that courtroom to listen on a hot summer’s day. It was love that compelled her principal to drive to Albany to be there. It was the deep and abiding love of a husband for his wife that compelled Bruce Lederman to spend countless hours preparing an extraordinary defense. And it is love that nourishes and sustains the good school, not avatar score predictions for performance on Common Core tests.”

This is a terrific article about whether test scores lose their value for accountability when so many students opt out.

What’s terrific about it is the comments of opt out leader Jeanette Deutermann, who says the purpose of test refusal is to bring down the system, to make test-based accountability impossible. She is a parent and she knows how testing has undermined education.

Then there is Tom Kane, the Harvard economist, insisting that without the scores, poor kids and minorities will be neglected. Where is the evidence that 13 years of testing has closed gaps or helped the neediest children?

Carol Burris analyzed the New York State results in the third year of Pearson testing for the Common Core, and she was underwhelmed.

She says the results are “a flop. The proficiency needle barely budged.” Achievement gaps grew.

“The percentage of students scoring proficient in English Language Arts rose less than 1 point, to 31.3 percent. The percentage of students who met math proficiency rose less than 2 points, to 38.1 percent. At this rate of increase, it will take about 70 years for all New York students to meet both New York Common Core proficiency cut scores.

There was no closing of the gap—in fact when it comes to proficiency rates, the gap between white students and black students and white students and Latino students widened in both ELA and math. The math proficiency gap increased by more than 3 percentage points. Both black and Latino student math proficiency rates rose about 1 percent–gains by white students were largely responsible for most of the increase in state math scores.

“Only 4.4 percent of all English language learners and 5.7 percent of students with disabilities were proficient in English Language Arts, and their math proficiency gains were respectively 0.6 percent and 1 percent….

“Three years of data make it crystal clear that the New York State Education Department is giving inappropriate tests, which are, for most students, a prolonged and arduous exercise in multiple guess.

“No one should be more embarrassed by that sad state of affairs than Chancellor Merryl Tisch. Answer Sheet readers may remember her big promise after the first year of Common Core tests. Comparing herself to Babe Ruth, Tisch said, “He called that shot, and he said, ‘I’m going to hit it there…A year from now, God willing, if we’re all sitting here, I promise you test scores are going to go up.”

“That promise was made after the first year of testing. In Year 2, there were flat ELA scores and a tiny tick up in math. Year 3 is once again a bust.”

Burris writes:

“The second clue came July 20 when Tisch said, ““Personally, I would say that if I was the mother of a student with a certain type of disability, I would think twice before I allowed my child to sit through an exam that was incomprehensible to them,”

“The “incomprehensible” test to which she refers is her own State Education Department’s Grade 3-8 Common Core tests. She does not explain what exactly that “certain type of disability” is. Apparently nearly 70 percent of all New York students have it.”

Chancellor Tisch believes in the theory that raising the bar higher and higher causes children to try harder. But if they fail year after year to meet goals beyond their reach, will they keep trying?

A few years ago, before the first of the Common Core tests, Tisch said it was time to throw kids into the deep end of the pool. Now we know–or should–that this is not a good way to teach swimming.

NYSAPE (Néw York State Allies for Public Education) represents 50 organizations of parents and educators. Today they released a statement on the state scores.

They previously thought that about 200,000 students had refused the tests, but the state acknowledged 225,000.

Without any change in state policies, NYSAPE warned that there would be more opt outs next spring. In some districts, opting out is the norm,not the exception.

Here is the press release. To open links, go to the original link:


More information contact:

Jeanette Deutermann (516) 902-9228;
Lisa Rudley (917) 414-9190;
NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) –

Opt Out to Sharply Rise as NYS Continues to Sacrifice Children With Flawed Tests & Policies

Yesterday, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) released the results of the 2015 3-8th grade English Language Arts (ELA) & Math exams. ELA scores were essentially flat, and the small increase in Math scores (less than 2 percentage points) was smaller than last year’s modest jump. There was also an increase in the percentage of Level 1 students in ELA, and an unchanged percentage of Level 1 students in Math, suggesting that the ratcheting up of high-stakes is leaving our most struggling students behind.
Test refusals, also known as opt outs, rose to a record number of 222,500, surpassing advocates’ estimates. More New York parents across the state are informed and have said no to the high-stakes testing regime that is disrupting quality education and harming their children. With no relief in sight, opt out figures are expected to grow significantly again this year until damaging education laws and policies are reversed.

Jeanette Deutermann, Nassau County public school parent and founder of Long Island Opt Out said, “How many more children will we sacrifice to a narrow education, excessive testing, and failure, before New York calls a timeout? How many veteran, master teachers will we watch flee the profession before we untie testing from evaluations? How many schools will close before New York State recognizes that public schools are the foundations of every community? Instead of dreaming up sanctions, SED should be working with educators and parents to change course and right this wrong.”

“Governor Cuomo, the Regents and SED have been quick to judge teachers through a sham accountability system that wrongfully reduces highly effective teachers to an ineffective rating and claims public schools are failing when, in fact, they are not. But they are slow to accept responsibility for the devastating consequences of these flawed testing and evaluation measures on our children, the teaching profession, and our public schools. Threats of sanctions will not deter opt outs. Parents are onto this sham and will continue to opt out children in order to protect them,” said Anna Shah, Dutchess County public school parent.

“Considering the amount of time, resources and money devoted to the state assessment system, the resulting data does little to help pinpoint specific student, educator or school strengths and weaknesses. The entire testing system is a boondoggle to taxpayers and continues to limit our children’s educational opportunities,” stated Chris Cerrone, Erie County public school parent, educator, and school board trustee.

Bianca Tanis, Ulster County public school parent said “Chancellor Merryl Tisch has publicly stated that she would think twice before allowing a child with special needs to sit through an ‘incomprehensible exam’ and has called state exams ‘cruel and unusual’. Yet neither the Board of Regents nor NYSED leadership has taken action to inform parents of their right to refuse harmful testing, let alone curb the eighteen hours of harmful state testing that disabled students as young as eight are compelled to engage in. Until the abuse stops, opt outs will continue.”

Marla Kilfoyle, Long Island public school parent, educator, and General Manager of the BATs stated, “As research shows, test scores will not close the achievement gap. We need to begin to invest in proven strategies that close the gap, or we will lose an entire generation of children.”

“The NY State tests are an illegitimate way to evaluate kids, schools and teachers – as shown by the recent NY Times article, in which questions on the 3rd grade exam stumped the author of the relevant passage. These tests are designed to make it look like the vast majority of our students and schools are failing, when they are not. Until the state provides less flawed exams – and a better teacher evaluation system not linked to them – parents will continue to opt out in growing numbers,” said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters.

“Pearson has been fired as the state’s test vendor, yet our children will be subjected to their tests for another school year. This is outrageous. If Governor Cuomo and members of the legislature who voted to increase the contribution of test scores to teacher evaluation think this is ok, they should prove it by taking the tests themselves. Let our public officials prove that they are smarter than a 5th grader,” said Nancy Cauthen, a NYC public school parent.

NYSAPE, a grassroots organization with over 50 parent and educator groups across that state, will be calling on parents to hand in test refusal letters on the first day of school in order to reclaim their children’s classrooms and to stop the destruction of our public schools. An updated 2016 test refusal letter is coming soon.

– See more at:

For months, state officials downplayed the significance and number of opt outs from state tests last April. The Néw York Times waited a week before acknowledging that it happened.

But now we know that the opt out was historic. 220,000 students–20%–of eligible students refused the tests. The previous year only 60,000 opted out. The number almost quadrupled in only one year. And the momentum will continue to build as state officials refuse to make any changes and threaten sanctions.

Now some say the high proportion of opt outs make state scores and trends invalid.

“That’s a large number, said George Theoharis, a Syracuse University professor and chair of the Teaching and Leadership program at the college. He said caution should be used in using the scores as a measure of students’ performance and schools’ accountability.

“We have to be careful about what we take from these tests and about school accountability, which is built around everyone taking the tests,” he said.

“Last spring, numerous parent groups organized to encourage people to boycott the tests, saying they were poorly written, too difficult, and created anxiety among students. The teachers’ union also joined to encourage opting out.

“The success of these efforts to convince students not to take the exams varied wildly.

“Dolgeville, about 28 miles northeast of Utica, recorded the highest opt out rate in the state, 90 percent, according to a Post-Standard analysis of state opt out data released Wednesday. At the other end, about 15 districts spread around the state reported no students opted out.

“Scores of districts, however, had 50 percent or more of their students not take the exams, the analysis showed. Ninety-four districts out of 668 (14 percent) had half or more students opt out of the ELA; it rose to 121 districts (18 percent) skipping the math exam.” has test data for every school in the state.

“The region with the highest opt out numbers was Long Island (40 percent) followed by the Mohawk Valley (38 percent) and Western New York (33 percent).

“New York City recorded the lowest opt out number ( 1 percent), the state data showed.

“Central New York had 33 percent of its students opt out.

“In Central New York, the district with the higher percentage of opt-outs was New York Mills with 77 percent opting out of math and 74 percent opting out of the English exam.

“In Onondaga County, LaFayette had the highest percentage of students opting out: 55 percent opted out of the math exam.”

Does a time come when state officials are forced to listen to parents?

It is safe to predict that the staye’s refusal to listen to parents will produce more opt outs next spring.

In an effort to slow or stop the opt out movement, Néw York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia announced that she would punish schools with high opt out numbers next spring.

About 20% of all eligible students in grades 3-8 opted out in 2015. Leaders of the opt out movement have promised to increase the numbers in the next round.

Commissioner Elia says she listens to parents, but right now she seems to be listening to Governor Cuomo, who is contemptuous of public schools and teachers.

It is all so predictable. With New York’s “rigorous,” confusing standardized state tests, most students “failed” to meet a standard set unrealistically out of reach. And the ones who were least likely to “pass” are the students with disabilities and English language learners.

Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents Merryl Tisch said a few weeks ago that if she had a child with special needs, she would “think twice” about letting the child take these tests. She was right. But in the latest press release, she insists that everyone should take the tests because the children will be ignored if they don’t have demonstrable evidence that they failed. Say what?

The state acknowledges that some 20% of students opted out of the test. That is the 200,000 that opt out leaders claimed.

The press release says about the opt out students: Department data show that students who did not take the 2015 Grades 3-8 ELA and Math Tests and did not have a recognized, valid reason for not doing so were more likely to be White, more likely to be from a low or average need district, and slightly more likely to have scored at Levels 1 or 2 in 2014. Students who did not take the test in 2015 and did not have a recognized, valid reason for doing so were lesslikely to be economically disadvantaged and less likely to be an ELL.

A majority of students across the state scored a 1 or 2, so this is not surprising.

Once again, a majority of the students across the state “failed.”

The department released test scores and opt-out data late Wednesday morning. They showed that 31.3 percent of students scored proficient on the ELA tests, and 38.1 percent of students scored proficient on the math tests.

Only 3.9% of current English Language Learners scored at level 3 or above (proficient) in English Language Arts and only 5.7% of students with disabilities.

Please bear in mind that “proficient” is used as a pass-fail mark. Please bear in mind that this is absurd. As defined by the two federally-funded testing consortia, “proficient” on the Common Core tests is aligned with the “proficient” achievement level on the federal NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress). I served on the governing board of NAEP for seven years. “Proficient” doesn’t mean “passing” or “grade level.” It represents a very high level of academic performance. On the NAEP, only one state–Massachusetts–has had as much as 50% of its students reach the proficient level. The national average hovers around 35-40%.

But also bear in mind that the “cut scores” or “passing marks” are not based on science. They are judgments that may be affected by politics. If too many children pass, the cut score may be raised; if too many children fail, the cut score may be lowered. Ultimately, there is no objective way to measure how many students are “college-and-career-ready.” Certainly it cannot be done for students in grades 3-8. There is no evidence behind the claims now made for the Common Core tests, for the cut scores, or for the predictions about which children are ready for college and career in third or fourth grade or any of the other tested grades.

What we can say with certainty is that these standardized tests–like all standardized tests–are unusually difficult for students with disabilities, students who are English Language Learners, and students of color, all of whom scored well below the state’s already abysmal averages.

The State Education Department press release (included in link above) said:

The State Education Department today released the results of the 2015 Grades 3-8 English Language Arts (ELA) and Math Tests. Overall, students statewide have made incremental progress in ELA and math since 2013, the first year assessments aligned to the more rigorous learning standards were administered in grades 3-8. In ELA, the percentage of all test takers in grades 3-8 who scored at the proficient level (Levels 3 and 4) remained consistent in 2015 at 31.3 compared to 30.6 in 2014 and 31.1 in 2013. In math, the percentage of all test takers in grades 3-8 who scored at the proficient level (Levels 3 and 4) increased by seven points in two years to 38.1 in 2015 from 36.2 in 2014 and 31.1 in 2013.

Progress for Black and Hispanic students held steady in 2015 ELA and math. While the percentage of students scoring at the proficient level edged up slightly in both subjects, Black and Hispanic students still face a significant achievement gap. English Language Learners (ELLs) also made small gains in 2015 in ELA and math but still lag behind their non-ELL peers. However, in New York City, Ever ELLs— students who received ELL services in years prior to the 2014-15 school year but not during the 2014-15 school year—had higher levels of ELA and math proficiency than NYC students who never received ELL services (Never ELLs).

In 2015, ELA performance for Black and Hispanic students remained consistent with prior year levels, while math performance improved slightly. In math, 21.3 percent of Black students scored at the proficient level this year, up from 19.8 percent in 2014 and 15.3 percent in 2013—a six point gain in three years. The percentage of Hispanic students achieving proficiency in math also jumped six points in three years to 24.5 percent in 2015, compared to 23.4 percent in 2014 and 18.5 percent in 2013. However, the achievement gap continues to persist statewide for Black and Hispanic students, as well as for ELLs. Current ELLs made small gains in ELA and math, yet they continue to lag behind their non-ELL peers.

In the state’s view, minimal progress means “held steady” or “consistent.”

The department’s leadership made clear that they had no intention of turning back from their course of high-stakes tests that “fail” most of the students in the state:

“This year, there was a significant increase in the number of students refusing the annual assessments,” Chancellor Tisch said. “We must do more to ensure that our parents and teachers understand the value and importance of these tests for our children’s education. Our tests have been nationally recognized for providing the most honest look at how prepared our students are for future success, and we believe annual assessments are essential to ensure all students make educational progress and graduate college and career ready. Without an annual testing program, the progress of our neediest students may be ignored or forgotten, leaving these students to fall further behind. This cannot happen.”

“We must also do a better job of explaining to parents the benefits of higher standards and annual testing,” Commissioner Elia said. “Since I became Commissioner, I’ve made it a priority to establish a dialog with parents so they better understand why we test. Annual assessments provide important information about individual students for parents and classroom teachers and allow us to keep track of how all student groups are doing. This year’s results show our scores are not yet where they need to be, but we will work to ensure continued improvement.”

So, once parents understand, they will feel good about their children’s failure. Maybe in thirty or forty years, we will see most children reach “proficient” or the cut scores will be dropped.

The Lederman challenge to Néw York’s teacher evaluation system will be heard tomorrow morning at 10 am in the court of Judge McDonough at 16 Eagle Street in Albany. If you are within shouting distance, show up to give Sheri moral support. But mind your manners and respect the decorum of the courtroom.

Leonie Haimson, writing on the NYC Parents Blog, wonders whether the New York state tests contain questions as embarrassing as the infamous “Pineapple and the Hare” story, which caused a great national controversy in 2012. Haimson broke the story, and it was covered by almost every national media outlet.

Stay tuned. When Pearson asks a third-grade question about a reading passage that even the author can’t answer, there is a problem. Ya think?

The state of New York released some of the questions that were used on its tests for grades 3-8. Kate Taylor and Elizabeth Harris of the New York Times wrote about a question on the third grade test that more than half of the children got wrong. When the author of the passage was asked the same question, he got it wrong. After he heard the “right answer,” it made sense to him.

The East African fable goes like this: A man frees a snake that is trapped between two rocks, and as a reward the snake gives him a charm that will allow him to hear what animals say, but only if the man keeps it a secret. The man betrays his new power by giggling at the things he hears, arousing his wife’s curiosity. He eventually tells her about the charm, and it stops working.

This story, which was included on this year’s New York State third-grade reading test, is easy to read. But a couple of the questions that went along with it on the test were trickier, stumping many third graders and, perhaps, even a few much older readers.

Some of the questions were relatively easy, others were “hard.” But “hard” seems to mean that they were confusing, poorly written, and made no sense, neither to children nor to many adults.

Peter Afflerbach, a professor of education at the University of Maryland and an expert in reading assessments and comprehension, said he considered the questions to be a mix. While some of the simpler questions seemed acceptable, he said, the more complex ones could sometimes be confusing.

“A really important guideline for item-writing is you never want the prompt to be more complex than the text the child actually read,” Dr. Afflerbach said.

Dr. Afflerbach was troubled by the third question: “How does Niel add to the problem in this story?” The correct answer is B, that “he laughs at what the animals say.” But the entire premise of the question might not make sense to a child, he said.

“As a third grader, I’d be thinking, ‘How is a magical charm a problem?’ ” Dr. Afflerbach said.

The reporter tracked down the writer of the passage. “He was initially stumped by the same question Dr. Afflerbach took issue with, but when told the answer, he said it made sense.” 

Probably the third graders had the same response. When confronted with the question, they were stumped. And they picked the wrong answer. If they had been told the right answer as the author was, then it would make sense. If the author of the passage can’t understand the question or the answer, on first hearing it, why should third grade children? This is a “gotcha” question, unfair on its face.




Some of the question

Some of the


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 156,267 other followers