Archives for category: Parents

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?

TIME magazine lost the confidence of many (or most) public school teachers with two cover stories in recent years. One was the cover story in 2007 portraying newly appointed D.C Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who allegedly knew “How to Fix America’s Schools” and was battling “bad teachers” so she could “transform American education.” The cover showed Rhee with a broomstick, looking stern and grim, about to sweep out the Augean stables of the school system. Then there was the recent “Rotten Apples” cover story about the Vergara trial and American teachers, asserting that it is “nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher,” because of tenure (i.e., due process).

So, what a surprise to discover an article in the same magazine that favorably explains the opt out movement. It is not perfect, for sure. It attributes the powerful opt out movement in New York to the unions, which is untrue. Nearly 200,000 parents opted out, and they were organized by parents like Jeanette Deutermann of Long Island, Lisa Rudley of Westchester County, Bianca Tanis of Ulster County, and Anna Shah of Dutchess County. Parent groups like New York State Allies for Public Education have been working on opt out for three years. In fact, the unions were not on the same page about the opt out movement. Karen Magee, the president of the state union (New York State United Teachers) supported opting out, as did some locals; but other locals remained silent.

The real story, which critics of opting out want to obscure, is that the movement is a grassroots, parent-led rebellion against a tsunami of testing and against tests that provide no information whatever to help their children. The test results provide no individual information other than a numerical score and ranking, not any description of what the student got right or wrong. Defenders repeatedly misinform by claiming that these tests are useful to teachers; they are not.

Christina A. Cassidy (AP, not TIME staff) writes:

In deep-blue New York, resistance has been encouraged by the unions in response to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to make the test results count more in teacher evaluations.

In Rockville Centre on Long Island, Superintendent William H. Johnson said 60 percent of his district’s third-through-eighth graders opted out. In the Buffalo suburb of West Seneca, nearly 70 percent didn’t take the state exam, Superintendent Mark Crawford said.

“That tells me parents are deeply concerned about the use of the standardized tests their children are taking,” Crawford said. “If the opt-outs are great enough, at what point does somebody say this is absurd?”

Nearly 15 percent of high school juniors in New Jersey opted out this year, while fewer than 5 percent of students in grades three through eight refused the tests, state education officials said. One reason: Juniors may be focusing instead on the SAT and AP tests that could determine their college futures.

Much of the criticism focuses on the sheer number of tests now being applied in public schools: From pre-kindergarten through grade 12, students take an average of 113 standardized tests, according to a survey by the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents large urban districts.

Of these, only 17 are mandated by the federal government, but the backlash that began when No Child Left Behind started to hold teachers, schools and districts strictly accountable for their students’ progress has only grown stronger since “Common Core” gave the criticism a common rallying cry.

“There is a widespread sentiment among parents, students, teachers, administrators and local elected officials that enough is enough, that government mandated testing has taken over our schools,” Schaeffer said.

Teachers now devote 30 percent of their work time on testing-related tasks, including preparing students, proctoring, and reviewing the results of standardized tests, the National Education Association says.

The pressure to improve results year after year can be demoralizing and even criminalizing, say critics who point to the Atlanta test-cheating scandal, which led to the convictions 35 educators charged with altering exams to boost scores.

In response to an article that showed the intense, competitive, and abusive practices at Success Academy charter schools that produce high test scores, the New York Times printed a series of statements by parents about their experiences with the schools. The letters, with their sharply divided opinions, actually reinforced the findings of the original article: the schools get high test scores, but they get those high scores in ways that many parents can’t abide. Another point: SA schools are not a good place for students with disabilities or emotional fragility.

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.

Peter Greene watched “All in with Chris Hayes,” in which Merryl Tisch and I discussed and disagreed about the value of the Common Core tests. The reason for the debate was the reports of large numbers of parents opting out their children.

Tisch, whom I have known for many years, is Chancellor of the Néw York State Regents. She defended the testing as necessary and helpful.

Peter Greene analyzed her changing rationales about why the tests are valuable.

She believes they help the neediest children, but of course these are precisely the children likeliest to fail. I don’t see how children gain motivation by failing a test that has been designed to fail 70% of all students.

She thinks that the opt outs are a “labor dispute” between the Governor and the teachers’ union. Unfortunately I did not have a chance to respond that parents do not act at the union’s command. They act in the best interests of their child.

Merryl Tisch is an intelligent woman, and I look forward to having a conversation with her, off-camera.

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.”

Peter Greene reports that Kentucky absolutely prohibits opt outs from state tests. No parental choice whatever. The children belong to the state, and that is that.

Kentucky parents should organize and demonstrate civil disobedience. That’s the American way when oppressed.

Juan Gonzalez has a front-page article in the New York Daily News about the historic opt out that swept across New York State.

 

He writes:

 

The entire structure of high-stakes testing in New York crumbled Tuesday, as tens of thousands of fed-up public school parents rebelled against Albany’s fixation with standardized tests and refused to allow their children to take the annual English Language Arts state exam.

 

This “opt-out” revolt has been quietly building for years, but it reached historic levels this time. More than half the pupils at several Long Island and upstate school districts joined in — at some schools in New York City boycott percentages neared 40%.

 

At the Patchogue-Medford School District in Suffolk County, 65% of 3,400 students in grades three to eight abstained from the test, District Superintendent Michael Hynes told the Daily News.

 

“There was a very strong parent contingent that spoke loudly today,” Hynes said.

 

At West Seneca District near Buffalo, nearly 70% of some 2,976 students refused testing. Likewise, at tiny Southold School District on Long Island’s North Fork, 60% of the 400 students opted out; so did 60% of Rockville Centre’s 1,600 pupils. And in the Westchester town of Ossining, nearly 20% of 2,100 students boycotted.

 

“It’s clear that parents and staff are concerned about the number of standard assessments and how they’re used,” Ossining school chief Ray Sanchez said.

 

The final numbers are not in, and may not be in for a few days, but it is already clear that the number of opt outs will far surpass last year’s 50,000.

 

Contrary to the official line that this is “a labor dispute between the Governor and the unions,” the opt out movement is parent led. Parents don’t work for the union, and parents aren’t dumb. Parents protect their children from tests that have no valid purpose. Parents protect their children from tests that were designed to fail them. Parents protect their children from tests that force schools to cut back on the arts, on recess, on anything that is not tested.

 

Bravo, New York state parents!

 

Bravo especially to the New York State Allies for Public Education, a coalition of 50 organizations of parents and teachers who have testified in Albany, held community forums, informed PTAs, met with their legislators, and raised funds to pay for billboards and roving trucks with banners, plastered towns with car magnets, opt-out stickers, and lawn signs, and been truly herculean in their dedication to bringing down the state’s mean-spirited and pointless testing regime. Go to their website to learn how they mobilized the Empire State to say no to the Governor and his misbegotten plan to bring down public schools and teachers.

 

This is grassroots democracy at work. The hedge fund managers have millions to buy allies, but they can’t buy millions of parents, whose first and only concern is for their children. As a parent said earlier today in the Long Island Press, “The most dangerous place on Earth is between a mother and her child. Cuomo has crossed the line.”

 

Make no mistake. This is parent resistance to high-stakes testing and to Andrew Cuomo’s plan to make the stakes even higher than they were. He was able to push his plan through the legislature, but parents have just thrown a huge monkey wrench into his ability to make it work. It won’t and it can’t. That is how democracy works. Only with the consent of the governed.

 

Steven Singer is a National Board Certified Teacher of secondary school in Pennsylvania, he is also a parent of a kindergarten student. He didn’t want her to take standardized tests, and he went to her school to meet with the principal and her teacher. One of the tests is DIBELS, the other is GRADE. He thought both were useless.

 

He writes:

 

“I think standardized testing is destroying public education. It’s stressing kids out by demanding they perform at levels they aren’t developmentally ready to reach. And its using these false measures of proficiency to “prove” how bad public schools are so they can be replaced by for-profit charters that will reduce the quality of kids’ educations to generate profits.”

 

The principal said:

 

“I’ve never had a parent ask to opt out of the DIBELS before,” he said.

 

He said the DIBELS is a piece of the data teachers use to make academic decisions about their students. Without it, how would they know if their children could read, were hitting certain benchmarks?

 

Singer replied:

 

“I know I teach secondary and that’s different than elementary,” I said, “but there is not a single standardized test that I give my kids that returns any useful information. “I don’t need a test to tell me if my students can read. I don’t need a test to know if they can write or spell. I know just by interacting with them in the classroom.”

 

The principal looked to the teacher, and the teacher agreed! She knows how her students are doing without the standardized tests.

 

Singer left feeling elated.

 

“It wasn’t until then that I realized the power parents truly have. The principal Smith might have refused a TEACHER who brought up all of the concerns I had. He’s their boss. He trusts his own judgment. But I don’t work for him. In fact, he works for me. And – to his credit – he knows that.

 

“I know everyone isn’t as lucky as me. Some people live in districts that aren’t as receptive. But if parents rose up en masse and spoke out against toxic testing, it would end tomorrow.

 

“If regular everyday Dads and Moms stood up for their children and asked questions, there would be no more Race to the Top, Common Core or annual standardized testing. Because while teachers have years of experience, knowledge and love – parents have the power. Imagine if we all worked together! What a world we could build for our children!”

The new interim superintendent in Montclair, New Jersey, released the Opt Out numbers: 39% opted out in grades 3-11. That is a stupendous number and a victory for the parents who rejected the PARCC sham.

The story was posted an hour ago at NorthJersey.com: “Montclair School District Releases PARCC Opt Out Numbers” (for some unknown reason, I can’t get a link, but google and you will find the story).

Out of a total of 4,623 students in the district registered to take test in grades 3-11, 1,795 refused, or 38.8 percent.

What the amounts also show is that the percentage of students who were opted-out by their parents, with some exceptions, rose as the grade levels got higher.

According to the information provided by the district, 3,170 students across the district in grades 3-8 registered, with 968 refusing to take the test. The number of students who were opted out is 30.5 percent.

In grades 9 through 11, 1,453 students registered, with 827 not taking the test, or 56.9 percent opting out.

The highest percentage of students not taking the PARCC tests were juniors at Montclair High School. About 66.5 percent or 319 out of 480 students opted out.

The lowest percentage was in the third grade level at Watchung School, with only one student opting out of the 76 registered, or 1.3 percent.

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