Archives for category: Testing

Parents and educators often ask, “What can we do to stop high-stakes testing and other fraudulent “reforms?” There is a clear answer: Organize. Resist. Band with others to let your school board and elected officials know that you will not collaborate with policies that are harmful to children and to public schools. Tell them you will not feed your child to the Machine that tests, ranks, and grades children for no purpose other than grading the teacher and generating data.

As a reader wrote yesterday, Néw Jersey is doing just that.

She writes:

“New Jersey is waking up and organizing against high stakes testing and other harmful policies of so-called ed reform.

“As reported by Save Our Schools NJ on its facebook page, at least 40 towns’ School Boards have recently passed humane opt-out/refusal policies, including:

“Bloomfield, Delran, Millburn, Montville, North Brunswick, Princeton, Robbinsville, Bernards Township, Black Horse Pike Regional, Bordentown Regional, Bueana Regional, Byram Township, Clinton Township, Delsea Regional High School District, East Hanover Township, East Windsor Regional, Elmwood Park, Evesham Township, Gloucester Township, Gloucester County Institute of Technology, Gloucester Coutny Special Services Schools, Little Egg Harbor, Livingston, Mahwah Township, Montville, Morris, Morris Hills Regional, Neptune Township, Pemeberton Township, Randolph, Somerset Hills, Southern Regional, Stafford Township, Sewdesboro, Township of Ocean, Union Township, Wall Townshhip, Washington Borough, Washington Township (Bergen), Woodbridge Township.

“Montclair NJ’s BOE is slated to vote on a humane opt policy Monday night, 1/26/15.

“(Parents should ask their districts about these directly, since districts may keep policies quiet so as not to inform parents as is reported here )

“Since Montclair Cares About Schools organized, a total of 14 towns have spontaneously organized their own “Cares About Schools” groups, including Highland Park, South Brunswick, RIdgewood, North Arlington, Florham Park, Nutley, East WIndsor, Verona, Manalapan-Englishtown, Dunellen, Howell, Millburn, Montville. Many of these groups are on facebook.

“Showings of ‘Standardized,’ the movie, and Take the PARCC events where community members can take sample PARCC tests and judge the tests for themselves, are popping up all over NJ. Some are sponsored by Cares About Groups, some by numerous other groups with their own names and styles, like Township of Union Park Advocacy Group.

“Statewide groups like Save Our Schools NJ and United Opt Out NJ have seen tremendous growth.

“Additional statewide sources like Speak up NJ post addresses and contacts to write legislators and important links.

“Groups like PULSE and the Newark Students Union have been organizing in Newark, NJ to protest the mismanagement and lack of accountability of the state appointed superintendent Cami Anderson, and their concerns are being echoed by Mayor Ras Baraka and legislators who oversee public schools.

“And organizations in Patterson and Camden are raising their voices.

“I am sure there are countless groups organizing in NJ, not mentioned here.

“Name them. Share information.

“Find a group. Join it. Or Start one of your own.

“Speak out, be brave, refuse the tests, refuse to vote for anyone who advocates for policies harmful to public education and children. Organize.

“Organize. Organize.

“Keep going. And never, never give up.”

Anya Kamenetz of NPR described a new study of choice in New Orleans that found that most parents picked schools based on proximity and extracurricular programs, not academics.


She wrote:


The charter school movement is built on the premise that increased competition among schools will sort the wheat from the chaff.


It seems self-evident that parents, empowered by choice, will vote with their feet for academically stronger schools. As the argument goes, the overall effect should be to improve equity as well: Lower-income parents won’t have to send their kids to an under-resourced and underperforming school just because it is the closest one to them geographically.


But an intriguing new study from the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans suggests that parent choice doesn’t always work that way. Parents, especially low-income parents, actually show strong preferences for other qualities like location and extracurriculars — preferences that can outweigh academics.


Mercedes Schneider, who has written frequently about New Orleans, took issue with a different aspect of the study, its claim that low-income families had greater access to high-performing schools, and that higher-performing schools moved into low-income neighborhoods following Hurricane Katrina.


She says that what the study calls progress is probably examples of “gaming the system” and recalculating what produces a higher letter grade for a school (links are found in the original post):


First, in their comparison of school performance scores pre-Katrina to post-Katrina, Harris is aware that the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) even awards some schools points for students whose scores are not proficient on state tests.


Consider this statement from the Harris/Larsen OneApp analysis:


After Katrina, the lowest-income families had greater access to schools with high test scores. School bus transportation systems expanded, average test scores increased across the city, and schools with higher test scores were more likely to locate near lower-income neighborhoods. Pre-Katrina public schools zoned for the highest-income neighborhoods were 1.3 letter grades higher than schools zoned for low-income neighborhoods; the difference between the lowest- and highest-income neighborhoods dropped to just a half letter grade considering the nearest schools after Katrina.


It seems that Harris and Larsen are equating higher school performance scores with higher test scores. As noted above, the LDOE incorporation of “bonus points” for non-proficient students boosted school performance scores, and RSD benefited from this practice.


Also, not sure how useful the above pre- to post-Katrina school grade comparison is given that there is no anchor. That is, the “closing if the letter grade gap” could mean that the highest letter grades have fallen. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the highest remained stationary while the lowest rose. Also, the highest-to-lowest income ratios are not necessarily the same pre-Katrina versus post-Katrina.

The degree to which the letter grade “gap closure” is an artifact of the post-Katrina mixture of income levels brought about by open enrollment remains unclear.


Moreover, school letter grades and performance scores serve as a fine example of high-stakes numbers easily gamed. Whereas Harris and Larsen re-scaled performance scores to compare pre-Katrina with post-Katrina school scoring outcomes, since 2011-12, the public has only “seen” the letters A B C D F and not the alterations in scoring that make those letters not directly comparable from one year to the next. Therefore, in 2011-12, a school with a D could have had a C in 2012-13 simply due to changes in calculation. However, the public “sees” the grade as “improved.” A deception.


Additionally, Harris and Larsen comment that “very-low-income families also have greater access to schools with high average test scores.” However, even with inflated school performance scores, most RSD schools continue to be rated as C, D, or F, the definition of a “failing school” by the original Louisiana voucher standard. The schools that have consistently been “high average test score” schools are those that were not taken over by the state post-Katrina and continue to be with the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB). General “access” to “higher average test score” schools might be “greater,” but it remains limited.


Next, Harris and Larsen note that “practical considerations” prevent parents from choosing higher-test-score schools. Indeed, it could be that so few A and B schools are available for parents to “choose,” especially given that many of these are selective-admissions schools, that the limited choice of a C school over a D school does not entice parents to choose to a greater degree based on academics.





Philadelphia, PA January 26, 2015




Parents at Feltonville and across the district stand in support of teachers


Dissatisfied with how standardized testing is eclipsing their children’s education, 20% of parents at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences — with the support of teachers — have opted their children out of standardized testing. And that number is growing despite disciplinary actions taken last week against teachers involved in informing parents of their rights.


Teachers were issued letters compelling them to attend investigatory conferences on Thursday of this week. The district move follows this City Paper article announcing that 17% of students at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences refused to take the PSSAs and other assessments. News of the action prompted Council members María Quiñones-Sánchez, Mark Squilla and Jannie Blackwell to issue a public statement of support for Feltonville families on Thursday saying “Until we put some limits on this obsession with testing students, we will see protests like that at Feltonville. We stand with families who are making the choice they believe is best for their children.”


With the recent appointment of a new Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, Pedro Rivera, Council members Quinones-Sanchez, Squilla, and Blackwell called upon the School Reform Commission to formally request a waiver for this school year, and to begin a review of the long-term strategy to reform the use of standardized testing.


“We, as parents, have a right to say no to the test”, says Heidey Contrera, the mother of 8th grader Natalie Contrera, who, having moved to Philadelphia from the Dominican Republic in 2011, is designated an English Language Learner at Feltonville. “The test is not a good measure of my daughter’s ability. It is not a fair way to judge her. And we’re not taking it.”


“Parents have the right to opt out – that is an indisputable right,” said Helen Gym, co-founder of Parents United for Public Education, one of the groups to come out publicly in support of parents and teachers at Feltonville. “The District has an opportunity to work with parents and teachers on an issue of common gain rather than once again being on the wrong side of the table.”


Amy Roat,, 215 768 8479, teacher, Caucus of Working Educators Steering Committee member, and Feltonville School of Arts & Sciences PFT Building Representative


Kelley Collings, , 215 868 3089, teacher, Caucus of Working Educators Steering Committee member, and Feltonville School of Arts & Sciences PFT Building Committee member


Kate Taylor of the New York Times checked with a few nonpartisan experts on Governor Cuomo’s claim that New York public education is in “crisis,” and in dire need of the draconian “reforms” he favors.


The experts said that New York public education is NOT in crisis. The public schools fare about the same as they did on national assessments as they did 20 years ago. Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution says that if they are in crisis now, then they must have been in crisis for the past 20 years.


Aaron Pallas of Teachers College says it is unfair to use the Common Core test scores to gauge achievement because they are have a different passing mark from the previous tests. Only 30% passed the Common Core tests, but the year before, 80% were passing. The teachers didn’t suddenly get worse. The State Commissioner decided to change the standards.

National Center for Fair & Open Testing

for further information:
Bob Schaeffer (239) 395-6773
for immediate release Thursday, January 22, 2015


For the fourth SAT administration in a row, widespread cheating threatens the security of this Saturday’s college admissions exam in Asia. According to Robert Schaeffer, Public Education Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), “Recycling test forms that were previously administered in the U.S. is the root cause of this ongoing scandal.”

Schaeffer explained, “Last fall, widespread reports of SAT cheating forced the test-makers to delay reporting many scores. Some are still being withheld, including those from honest students who did not cheat. Earlier this week, a source sent FairTest a website link to what purports to be the test scheduled for use in Asia on Saturday, January 24. It appears to be an exam form administered in the U.S. in June 2014. Multiple other sources report that test coaching companies in China and South Korea are selling access to this document.”

“The test-makers now admit that scores from the October, November and December 2014 SATs were held back for ‘administrative review,’” Schaeffer continued. “Yet, the companies that own and manufacture the SAT – the College Board and Educational Testing Service (ETS) — have not addressed the underlying problem, their practice of recycling tests in Asia that have previously been seen by thousands of U.S. students”

A College Board web page states, “Over the past three months, organizations and individuals have illegally obtained and shared test materials for their own profit, to the ultimate detriment of students.” (

Schaeffer concluded, “In an age of instant global communication via secret websites, text messages, and cell phone videos, it is irresponsible for the College Board and ETS to act as if test contents can be kept ‘secret’ after their administration. Unless the test-makers stop recycling old exams in Asia, SAT ‘test security’ will continue to be an international joke.”

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Watch the videos of children testifying against Common Core PARCC testing.

Here is one.

Here is another.

From the mouths of babes….wisdom.

A reader posted this comment about the debate over testing:



The narrative of students as “product” does none of us activists any good, because truly it’s a reformer red herring–whether offensive or not–and it seems to me we should ditch it fast. Children are not the “products” in reformers efforts to change education. Children are the consumers. Reformers aren’t working to “improve” children, their brains, or their prospects. They’re working to SELL them stuff. If reformers cared about the quality of learning American children receive, standardized testing would be the last thing they’d subject them to, because it’s the last thing they subject their own children to. They know it’s a colossal waste of their own kids’ valuable learning time and it does nothing to help them or their teachers.


Reformers do care about whether–actually how many–children will form their latest target audience in the Race to the Top of the education “market,” and standardization is the key to quantity in that biz. The testing, charter, and tech industries live and die by test scores. Without scores, specifically standardized scores in quantity, they’d have a much harder time justifying their existence or creating a market worth the investment. Every industry has its labor issues–must cut costs!–and how can you fire teachers in bulk if you don’t have a single digit number by which to “evaluate” a year’s worth of work? What if you have to rely on messy realities, such as what goes on in real classrooms, to understand the nuanced relationship between mentor and mentee? Forget the extenuations of family, nutrition, opportunity, oh never mind. What’s more, reformers simply cannot reduce overhead by firing the small percent of teachers who are phoning it in. That’s why 2/3rd of New York children HAD to fail the state’s standardized tests and why Cuomo and Tisch aren’t satisfied with the junk VAM they originally okayed that returned only 1% of teachers as ineffective. How can you take over neighborhood schools with charters, and raise millions from financial services execs, if you can’t brag about “higher” test scores in the Wall Street Journal? How can you replace entire urban school districts with a warren of administratively redundant and cookie-cutter charters, if you can’t scream “failing” while whacking at a colorful bar graph? How can you sell booklets and applications and assessments on a big enough scale if the whole school year isn’t building up to a single test that the entire nation of children takes, preferably on a computer? Worse, what if teachers and kids actually read good books together, took field trips, created performances, conducted hands-on experiments in classrooms–using old stuff like recycled soda bottles, eggs, and baking soda of course? Invest in Arm & Hammer stock now!


Reformers will trot out every argument–any argument–to keep standardized testing to vindicate the “business” of education, rooted fundamentally in the need for change on a grand scale. The latest, I see, is the “civil rights issue of our time” argument again–that without annual, universal standardized tests, we wouldn’t “know” that children in high-poverty neighborhood (therefore schools) do not score as well on standardized tests as children in middle and upper class neighborhoods. REALLY? What rock do they live under? Seems to me, folks with a shred of sympathy have understood for decades–centuries?–not only this disparity but the far more serious one that poor children have too slim a chance of moving out of poverty. Anti-poverty organizations have been working to change things all along, but with precious little support from the government OR party-going philanthropists. Sampling and the NAEP would provide, has provided, more than enough data for reformers to glean this nugget. Anyway, NOW THEY KNOW. And what happened? This testing revelation has resulted in the worst atrocities of curriculum-trimming, test-prep, and educational “disruption” being visited upon only the poorest schools and districts. The dawning revelation of social inequity makes a convenient defense when what you’re really trying to do is transforms schools into the next strip malls of America.


Standardized testing has nothing to do with improving education–not for wealthy suburbanites in Westchester and not for needy children in the Bronx. It’s all about scale, and propping up a vast and growing “education industry” that’s only worth the trouble (money) of the likes of Gates, Murdoch, the Waltons, and the Bushes, and, sadly, Obama and Duncan, if it’s standardized and millions of customers–I mean children–are buying.

Peggy Robertson, one of the leading figures in the Opt Out movement, has compiled a list of teachers who refuse to give the mandated tests, as a matter of conscience.


She plans to add to the list as more teachers step up and refuse to obey what they believe is an unjust law.

Jennifer Rickert is an elementary school teacher in upstate Néw York. She loves teaching. She has taught for 22 years. She tried her best to implement the Common Core. She was enthusiastic about doing it right. But when she read the guidelines for the Spring 2015 tests, she concluded her students were being set up for failure. She can’t do it.

She explains why in this post.

She details each of her objections to the test, including the fact that some passages may be written at a level suitable for eleventh-graders (her students are age 11 and 12). And students will be asked to choose the “right answer” when some answers are “plausible” but not the right answer.

She summarizes why she will not give the test:

“In summary, we are going to ask 11-year-olds to read and comprehend passages that are taken from higher grades, some at 5 years above their level, with controversial and provocative language, based on abstract literature and historical documents that the students have not learned about yet, and choose an answer from several plausible choices? We are going to have our students spend nine hours of seat time, allowing extra time for our Special Education students, on these inappropriate tests? (Add another nine hours for math.)

“And after all is said and done, we will reduce each child to a number: 4, 3, 2, or 1, based on their performance, providing the teachers and parents with little to no information about what they can and cannot do?

“No. No, I cannot.”

United Opt Out sent a letter to Senator Lamar Alexander, who chairs the HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) Committee in the Senate. Senator Alexander intends to rewrite No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which was originally called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act when it was first passed in 1965. At that time, the law was passed to send federal aid to poor districts. It said nothing about testing and accountability. But NCLB turned the federal law into a high-stakes testing mandate. Senator Alexander conducted his first hearing on January 21 and plans another hearing on January 27. Senator Alexander proposed two options in  his draft legislation: option 1 was to replace annual testing with grade span testing; option 2 was to keep annual high-stakes testing (the status quo). UOO is opposed to high-stakes testing in the federal law, period. (So am I.)


Here is UOO’s letter:



United Opt Out Public Letter to Senator Alexander



January 22, 2015


Dear Senator Alexander,


There is a great deal of discussion about where education leaders and organizations “stand” when it comes to the latest revision for ESEA titled Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015. In response, the organizers of United Opt Out (UOO) find that we stand between Scylla and Charybdis, between the proverbial rock and a hard place.


In your bill you pose the question of support for Option 1, a reduction in testing to grade span, or Option 2, which continues the current testing nightmare; we support neither. We find many items in the 400 page document too egregious and insupportable even though we do accept the notion of “grade span testing,” preferably via random sampling, as an alternative to what is in place now.


While we understand why many of our respected colleagues have shown support for Option 1 in your bill, we cannot endorse either. This is because both options are tucked neatly inside a larger bill that promotes the expansion of charters and other policies destructive overall to the well-being of students, public schools, and communities. Another reason we are reluctant, no matter what enticing promises are included therein, is due to those who lobbied for this bill in 2013: The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Alliance for Excellent Education and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has immense ties to ALEC.


While we are inclined to support H.R. 4172 – Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act sponsored by Rep. Chris Gibson and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, which also calls for grade span testing, we would like to see additional safeguards included against possible punitive (i.e. high stakes) state policies. Also, as stated above, we prefer random sampling. In our assessment, H.R.4172 does not go far enough to protect children, educators, and communities against state policies that are damaging in nature in spite of good intent. To elaborate, this bill requires those tests be administered at least once during: (1) grades 3 through 5, (2) grades 6 through 9, and (3) grades 10 through 12. However, “under H.R. 4172, the states would retain the ability to exceed federal testing requirements if they seek to do so.” In other words, students could be tested just as much as they are now if states choose to do so. The bill is not a guaranteed protection against over-testing and its punitive consequences; it’s just a hope. We believe that hope alone is not sufficient.


Make no mistake, Senator Alexander, we understand fully that you are a supporter of the privatization of public schools. Despite that fact, your bill and Gibson’s may be preferable to some who are against the privatization of public schools because they contain the possibility of being better than the existing federal and state policies. However, they are not appealing to many, in particular states that have suffered the negative impact of high stakes testing. Furthermore, we can’t see how either of the current bills proposed are the “solution” to problems such as equity in funding, re-segregation, compromised pedagogy, data mining, or the intrusion of corporate interests – to cite from a list of many – that continue to fester in public education.


We agree that education decisions should be decided in state legislative and local district bodies, but safeguards should be in place to ensure horrific policies such as over testing and attaching results to student, teacher, school, and community worthiness are not pushed through state and district legislative bodies. Your bill and Gibson’s include no such safeguards for polices that have been detrimental to the non-white, special needs, immigrant, and impoverished communities.


UOO and most other human rights organizations will vigorously oppose ANY state level measures that sanction the following:


Increase standardized testing even if it’s under “state control”


Support using high stakes to make decisions about students, educators, school buildings, or communities


Use of sanctions such as “shuts downs” or “turn overs” based on test data of any kind


Display favoritism toward increased charters and state voucher programs


Facilitate data mining and collection of private student information


Engage in sweet insider deals between state policy makers and corporations or testing companies using tax-payer dollars and at the expense of safety, quality and equity in public education


Therefore, we demand greater safety, equity and quality for ALL schools and that includes the elimination of ALL standardized -paper based or computer adaptive testing – that redirects tax-based funding for public education to corporations and is punitive or damaging to children, teachers, schools, and communities.


We will not accept ANY bill until the following criteria are included:


Increased resources for the inclusion of local, quality curricular adoptions devoid of “teaching to the test”


Quality, creative, authentic, and appropriate assessment measures for general students, special needs, and English language learners that are sustainable and classroom teacher-created


Smaller teacher/student ratios


Wrap-around social programs, arts, physical education programs, and creative play recess


Career-focused magnet programs


Additionally, we demand legislation that supports a broad and deep system-wide examination of the power structures that perpetuate poverty-level existence for millions of Americans.


To conclude, we find ourselves having to choose between being shot in the head and being shot in the foot. For now, we choose neither. Instead we call for continued revisions of current legislation to include the items and protections outlined in this letter. We thank you for this opportunity to share our sentiments and our voice.




United Opt Out Administrators:



Rosemarie Jensen
Denisha Jones
Morna McDermott
Peggy Robertson
Ruth Rodriquez
Tim Slekar
Ceresta Smith




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