Archives for category: Parents

Marla Kilfoyle is a National Board Certified Teacher and a leader of the Badass Teachers Association. She is also the parent of a 12-year-old public school student. She was surprised to hear Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch say that teachers and parents need the state tests because of their diagnostic value. In this post, she explains to Chancellor Tisch why the state tests have no diagnostic value. Her post contains a typical state test report to parents. It was returned months after the test, when the student has a new teacher. It has scores on it, but no description of the student’s weaknesses or strengths in any particular area. In the example she gives, the parents learn that their child scored a 1, the lowest ranking, but nothing about where the child needs extra help.

She compares the lack of diagnostic information on the New York State report to another test administered to students. It is called WIAT (Wechsler Individual Test). This test breaks down each student’s test performance on specific skills. It is returned to parents in less than a month. (The WIAT is owned by Pearson, which also created the non-informative New York annual tests.)

Kilfoyle is upset by Chancellor Tisch’s description of the opt out movement as a labor dispute. The many thousands of parents whose children refused the tests were not acting on behalf of the teachers’ union. They were acting as parents concerned about subjecting their children to a useless test.

Donn Esmonde of the Buffalo News sat down to talk with three of the parent leaders of the historic Opt Out movement in New York state. Although the mainstream media has trouble understanding that the movement is led by parents, Esmonde got it.

They don’t look or act like radicals. None dress in camouflage. All three are parents who vote, pay their taxes, stop at red lights and salute the flag. But Eric Mihelbergel, Christine Cavarello and Jodi Hitchcock – and thousands like them – form the roots of a revolution.

It would be one thing if they were a disaffected minority, a grumpy niche, a band of eccentrics. But their numbers have swelled to the point where they – and their message – can no longer be ignored. Not even by as large, autonomous and irrepressible a bureaucracy as State Ed.

The three are part of a mushrooming legion of parents who don’t let their kids take standardized state tests. Their numbers are startling: 70 percent of third- through eighth-graders in West Seneca; 58 percent in Lake Shore; 56 percent in North Tonawanda; and 49 percent in Lackawanna opted out of Tuesday’s English Language Arts (ELA) exam. Numbers were lower in other districts – but exponentially larger in most places than last year….

We sat Thursday in the living room of Mihelbergel’s tidy ranch house in Tonawanda. I wanted a better idea of the motives behind the movement. These parents didn’t strike me as irrational, uninformed or overprotective. Quite the contrary.

They have a huge – and, it seems to me, justifiable – problem with their kids being force-fed these now-annual exams of questionable content. The results are being more heavily tied by the governor into grading teachers and schools. At worst, it feeds a teach-to-the-test culture that undercuts learning, handcuffs teachers and disregards the strengths and interests of each kid.

“It’s a game nobody’s going to win,” said Cavarello. “You’re chasing test scores, to the detriment of really educating the kids … The teachers aren’t happy, but they can’t do much about it.”

When the testing tail wags the learning dog, parents stand up in protest. And their numbers are growing. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, “You know something is happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Cuomo?”

The parents I spoke with aren’t rising up because they don’t know what’s happening in the classrooms, but because they do. Ramping up standardized testing, and its ripple effect in schools, has turned parents into rebels, solid citizens into outliers, the law-abiding into the rule-defying.

“The state has underestimated the power of that Mama Bear and Papa Bear instinct, when it comes to protecting our children,” said Hitchcock. “This fight isn’t easy, it takes a lot of work.”

This comment was posted on the blog by Peggy Robertson, founder of United Opt Out, in response to the New York Times’ article implying that the Opt Out movement is led by the teachers’ unions.

Peggy Robertson writes:

Opt out is led by parents, teachers, students and citizens. When United Opt Out National began over four years ago we were simply a facebook page with a file for each state. Within hours our FB group page was flooded with opt out requests and now we have opt out leaders all over the country and grassroots opt out groups popping up everywhere. I think Florida has 25 at this point – probably more since I last checked – and mind you they did this all on their own. UOO has simply been a catalyst and a support. What is even more fascinating, and sad, is that UOO has reached out to the unions many times, and never received a response. You will notice that United Opt Out National is rarely mentioned in recent articles. I think that’s because we represent the people. The power of the people. UOO has no funding (heck I paid for our website for the first two years pretty much on my own). When our website was destroyed last year guess who helped UOO fund/rebuild it? The people. No corporations. No unions. The people – the citizens of this country – for free – and with truth and heart – have helped us to create fifty state opt out guides. The citizens have helped us to continually update and alert folks to opt out situations across the country. The people have helped us create essential guides, opt out letters, and social media campaigns. The fact that this is happening by the people, for the people, with no funding, is true democracy and is a dangerous thing. Folks would much prefer that we are sheeple and that we are incapable of strategically planning a nationwide opt out movement. Guess what? We did it. All of us. That makes us dangerous. That makes the media/corporations want to co-opt and shut down our work. A mass movement of civil disobedience that is running through our country like a tidal wave in an attempt to save our democracy is indeed a powerful force that no corporation can shut down. Let’s keep pushing forward. Solidarity to all of you.

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.


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