Archives for category: Parent Groups

Soon after MaryEllen Elia was selected unanimously by the New York Board of Regents to be the State Education Commissioner, she gave me a call to introduce herself. We had a very pleasant exchange, and I made one request of her: Would she be willing to meet with the board of New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE)? I explained to her that NYSAPE was the primary organizer of the historic opt out from state testing last spring, leading to about 200,000 students refusing to take the mandated tests. That’s 20% of the children who were supposed to take the tests. I told her that I thought it was important for her to meet them and hear their concerns. She readily assented.

Commissioner Elia took office on July 6, and she met with the leaders of NYSAPE (a few were away on vacation) on August 4. I joined the meeting to hear the discussion. From the outset, it was clear that Commissioner Elia intended to listen and that she is warm and personable. She may have heard that parents had a serious problem with her predecessor John King, who lectured them and seemed never to listen. Commissioner Elia asserted that there would be no teacher-bashing from her office; she was a teacher, and she wants the public to respect teachers.

That was a good start. Then the parents and educators expressed their views candidly. They do not like high-stakes testing; they do not like teachers’ evaluations tied to test scores, because that distorts the educational process. They are not opposed to testing, so long as testing is used only within the school for diagnostic purposes. The parents of children with disabilities complained that the tests were too long (three hours a day for six days), and in some cases, meaningless to their children. There were complaints about the State Education Department’s failure to answer FOILS (freedom of information requests) in a timely manner (or at all!) and complaints that the SED had failed to appoint a chief privacy officer, as a state law required.

What was striking was that this group of leaders are very well-informed. They have testified at hearings in Albany and in their towns. They are active in their communities and interact with elected officials. They are determined and they are not going away. One promised that if there were no policy changes from the Regents or the Legislature, the number of opt outs would grow.

Commissioner Elia was very cordial, but she hinted that there might be some kind of sanctions for opting out. It is hard to see how the state could withhold funds from school districts without incurring the wrath of some powerful state legislators. She also said that although Pearson had been replaced by Questar, Pearson’s tests would be used again this coming year. The new tests would be used for the first time in 2016-17. I am not sure if the change of vendor breaks the trend line, nor do I know anything about the record of Questar.

Commissioner Elia calmly but clearly stated her support for evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students. She did it in Florida and says that the teachers supported the practice. She is also a fan of online testing and raised the question of “embedding” online testing into instruction.

Carol Burris, the recently retired principal of South Side High School in Rockville Center (and new executive director of the Network for Public Education Fund, of which I am chair), participated in the meeting. She read off the ratings of teachers at very low-performing schools in Buffalo; many of the teachers in those schools received high ratings. Then she read the ratings of teachers at the high-performing Scarsdale public school, and an extraordinary proportion were rated “ineffective.” Commissioner Elia agreed that these results made no sense. Carol Burris wrote about this same meeting here. She suggested that New Yorkers hoping for a change in direction should not hold their breath waiting.

Of course, Commissioner Elia has to deal with the political realities. New York has a governor, Andrew Cuomo, who loves high-stakes standardized tests and wants to find and fire teachers who don’t “produce” them. Elia can’t write her own laws. But the story isn’t over. The leadership of the Board of Regents might change next spring when new members are appointed. There is already a strong bloc of retired educators on the Board who don’t like the current regime of high-stakes testing and don’t think the tests are either valid or reliable. That bloc might become the majority, and the realities would change.

It was a friendly and cordial meeting, but the differences in opinion were large. If NYSAPE was hoping for a change of direction, it seems unlikely to happen soon. Commissioner Elia agreed to meet again, and NYSAPE will no doubt continue to try to change her views. If nothing changes, the number of opt outs could increase in a big way next spring.

This reader, named Megan, is a teacher. She does not teach in Néw York. She is grateful to the Néw York Opt Out movement, who keep alive her hope for a return to sane education policies:




“We just finished SBAC 2 weeks ago followed by MAPs the very next week. I am, I guess fortunate to work in a district where test scores are not yet tied to my evaluation but the legislature is working on this very thing at present.



“We were told this year that it would be a ” no fault” year due to the fact that our district could not correlate last year’s CBM to the new test. This after initially saying they had a “special formula ” to do just that.



“Then, in the first days of the test, the whole system shut down and the largest district in our state received permission to forego the test this year. So, the rest of us took the test over two weeks. I did some online test prep in January but refused to overwhelm my students with weeks of test prep. I taught all the subjects in the curriculum normally. I will not subject my students to the stress that assemblies, daily test prep., and rigmarole I have seen in other schools, it’s just not right.



“I’m pleased to see other states such as New York sounding the alarms to what these tests do to students, their parents and schools. I am hopeful that this current movement to opt out will spread across the rest of the country.”

MaryEllen Elia, who was fired as Superintendent of Hillsborough County a few months ago, was unanimously endorsed by the Néw York State Board of Regents yesterday.


Valerie Strauss wrote about her selection here. She has the support of the Republican establishment in Florida (she was a member of far-right Governor Rick Scott’s transition team), as well as the support of teachers’ unions in Florida and Néw York.


Parent activists are wary of Elia because of her past support for high-stakes testing. To win their confidence, she must clarify her views about testing, about the Opt Out movement, about detaching test scores from teacher evaluations, about merit pay, and about Common Core.


In this interview, she reiterates her support for high-stakes testing, the Common Core, and using test scores to evaluate teachers. When asked her reaction to parent resistance to testing, she emphasizesd the need for better communications with parents. I don’t think that “better communications” will pacify parents who are fed up with the overuse of testing. At some point, hopefully soon, Commissioner Elia must recognize that parents know what they are doing, and they disagree with the Regents’ policy of plunging into the Common Core, high-stakes testing, and test-based accountability.


Commissioner Elia must understand that the problem is not a failure to communicate, but a genuine difference of opinion about how to educate children. The leaders of the Opt Out movement are not misinformed; they are very well informed indeed. Will she punish children who refuse the tests next year? Will she collaborate with parent leaders? Will she listen to parents and hear them? Will she use her influence to persuade the Regents and the Governor to reduce the importance of standardized tests? If she doubles down on Governor Cuomo’s testing agenda, she will energize the Opt Out movement. Parent leaders are disappointed by the lack of transparency in the selection process as well as the implicit message that the Regents did not listen to them. They will continue to speak out in the only way they can be heard, by refusing to submit their children to the tests.

Elizabeth Harris and Ford Fessenden wrote an article that just went online in The Néw York Times about the stunning growth of the Opt Out movement in Néw York state. Its numbers have increased dramatically in only two years.

The movement is now a potent political force:

“As the vanguard of an anti-testing fervor that has spread across the country, New York’s opt-out movement already has become a political force. Just two months ago, lawmakers from both parties, at the behest of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, increased the role of test scores in teacher evaluations and tenure decisions.

“Those same legislators are now tripping over one another to introduce bills that guarantee the right to refuse to take tests. The high numbers will also push state and federal officials to make an uncomfortable decision: whether to use their power to financially punish districts with low participation rates.”

The federal government requires a 95% participation rate on tests. Two years ago, almost every district complied. Not this year.

“Only 30 of the 440 districts where data was available met the 95-percent test participation rate called for by federal requirements, a far cry from just two years ago, when almost every district complied.”

Critics of opt out say that without the test scores, no one would know which students, teachers, and schools are “failing.” But if the tests are invalid and unreliable, as many believe the Common Core tests are, then the information they provide is worthless. Are superintendents, principals, and teachers so untrustworthy that no one knows what is happening in the schools? Are the test makers better judges than professional educators?

Where will the Opt Out Movement go from here? It terrifies the Establishment. It is a grassroots movement that can’t be bought out.

Now that parents have found their voice and a means of expressing their displeasure, there is nowhere to go but up. The organizing will continue, especially as the state raises the stakes on the trsts. Next year expect even bigger numbers.

Amazing news!

Long Island Opt Out, led by parent Jeanette Deutermann, endorsed candidates in yesterday’s school board elections across the two counties that comprise the Island. Fifty-seven of the 75 candidates endorsed by LIOO won their races. This includes seven of Deutermann’s liaisons for Opt Out.

Their message was: “We are taking back our schools.”

Long Island is the national hotbed for opt outs. It is a model for the nation. Parents are organized and active; they have the support of many principals and superintendents.

Jeanette Deutermann has spearheaded this effective resistance to high-stakes testing. She belongs on this blog’s honor roll as a champion of public education.

Parents in Texas rose up to fight the over testing of their children and to send a message to the Legislature. Testing is not teaching, but the Legislature seemed to think that the way to fix the schools was to add more tests while slashing billions in funding.

Reacting to parent groups like TAMSA (Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessmentt), the Legislature dropped a proposal to require students to pass 15 tests to graduate (it remains five). Almost every school board in the state passed a resolution ahAinst high-stakes testing.

And now the State Education Department (headed by a non-educator) has acted: it switched testing vendors, taking most of the state testing away from Pearson and giving it to ETS.

Jeffrey Weiss of the Dallas Morning Mews asks the key question:

“Whether students, teachers or school officials will notice the change is a question state officials declined to answer Monday.”

Does it really matter which vendor administers too many tests? Does it matter who writes theultople-choice question? Will the stakes change?

Parents Across America issued a statement opposing Common Core, PARCC, and SBAC.

1) PAA is NOT opposed to learning standards or assessment. We believe it
is important for school communities to have a shared vision and goals
for student learning, and effective tools for monitoring student

2) PAA is NOT opposed to federal involvement in public education. We
believe that the federal government and the U.S. Department of Education
have an important role monitoring and addressing issues of school
resource equity and student civil rights, and researching and promoting
best practices in education.

3) PAA recognizes that the push for national standards and tests did not
start with CCSS/PARCC/SBAC. We acknowledge the real desire of many who support CCSS/PARCC/SBAC to improve the quality of education, especially for some of the nation’s neediest children. However, we believe such efforts are based on a faulty analysis of the challenges facing public
schools and a disregard for the harmful and ineffective results of
standardized test-based accountability.

We oppose the CCSS because they are not derived from any community’s
shared vision of a quality education. We oppose the PARCC/SBAC
assessments because they are products of the same companies whose tests are being rejected daily as time-wasting intrusions on real learning by growing numbers of parents, teachers, students, and administrators
across the nation.

We oppose CCSS/PARCC/SBAC because we believe that they were designed to allow corporate interests easier access to the “educational marketplace”
and to private student and family data. CCSS/PARCC/SBAC will provide new
ammunition for the attack on teachers and the teaching profession when
scores show even more “failing” students and schools. Ultimately, this
new, even more coercive version of top-down, test-focused education will
deprive too many of our most vulnerable children – children of color,
children living in poverty, special needs students, English-language
learners – of the empowerment and opportunity that deep learning and
strong schools can offer them.

PAA calls for an immediate nationwide moratorium on implementation of
CCSS/PARCC/SBAC. This moratorium will provide states and local districts
the opportunity to step back from CCSS/PARCC/SBAC, allow for extensive
public review and input on these programs, and decide for themselves,
without federal intrusion, if or how these materials will be used.

We believe that, if used at all, CCSS should be considered as
recommendations only in the development or revision of local standards,
and that, if used at all, PARCC/SBAC tests should be voluntary for
schools, teachers and students, and have no high stakes.

For more information, please see our fact sheet, “Common Core Basics,” and “Annotated References,”

which provides extensive background information on our CCSS/PARCC/SBAC

PAA has very different ideas about what’s needed in education than those
embodied in CCSS/PARCC/SBAC. Please see our position paper, “What is a Quality Education?”

In a story published in the New York Times, Kate Taylor and Motoko Rich describe test refusal as an effort by teachers’ unions to reassert their relevance. This is ridiculous.

Nearly 200,000 students opted out. They were not taking orders from the union. They were acting in the way that either they wanted to act or their parents wanted them to act.

I emailed with one of the reporters before the story was written and gave her the names of some of the parent leaders of the Opt Out movement, some of whom have spent three years organizing parents in their communities. Jeanette Deutermann, for example, is a parent who created Long Island Opt Out. I gave her the names of the parent leaders in Westchester County, Ulster County, and Dutchess County. I don’t know if any of them got a phone call, but the story is clearly about the union leading the Opt Out movement, with nary a mention of parents. The parents who created and led the movement were overlooked. They were invisible. In fact, this story is the only time that the Times deigned to mention the mass and historic test refusal that cut across the state. So according to the newspaper of record, this was a labor dispute, nothing more. Not surprising that this is the view of Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of the Board of Regents, and of everyone else who opposes opting out.

By taking this narrative as a given, the Times manages to ignore parents’ genuine concerns about the overuse and misuse of testing. Not a word about the seven to ten hours of testing for children in grades 3-8. Not a word about the lack of transparency on the part of Pearson. Not a word about data mining or monitoring of children’s social media accounts. To the Times, it is all politics, and the views of parents don’t matter.

The great mystery, unexplored in this article, is why the parents of 150,000 to 200,000 children refused the tests. Are the unions so powerful as to direct the actions of all those parents? Ridiculous.

How could they get it so wrong?

Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for an investigation of teacher ratings on Long Island.

This follows a “Newsday” report that the portion of ratings under local control were “skewed” towards effective ratings.

Cuomo wants evaluations to count student scores as 50%, instead of the present 40% (only 20% is based on state tests, the other 20% on local measures

For some reason, Cuomo is determined to find some teachers he can fire. He is certain–despite evidence to the contrary–that low scores are caused by teachers.

He must have had terrible law school professors. There have been numerous reports that he failed the bar exam four times. If this is true, I hope he sued his law school for hiring ineffective professors.

Leonie Haimson lists here the best and worst education events of 2014.

She cites the demise of inBloom as one of the best and the Vergara decision as one of the worst.

What would you add to her list?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 156,333 other followers