One of the biggest challenges to those of us who oppose privatization, school closings, high-stakes testing, and the rest of the failed ideas mistakenly called “reform” have a big job to do. We must educate the public. The public hears the word “reform,” and they think it means progress and improvement. They don’t know it means chaos and disruption of their local public schools. They hear about testing, and they think, “I took tests, what’s so bad about that?”

Here is a fine example of educating the public. It appeared in my local newspaper, the Suffolk Times-Review (recently recognized as the best weekly in New York state). It was written by Gregory Wallace, a former “educator of the year.”

Wallace explains in plain language for non-educators why the Common Core testing will harm public education.

He writes:

As a seasoned educator, I strongly believe that well-designed tests are a valuable educational tool. When used properly, tests provide timely feedback about student progress. Rather than adding to the diagnostic value of tests, however, the NYS Common Core assessments are used solely to rank students, evaluate teachers and label schools as “failing,” slating them for takeover by privately run charters.

One need only understand that the results of these tests are released months after students have moved to the next grade. Parents cannot see an itemized breakdown of how their children performed, because the content of the test remains a closely guarded secret. There is no transparency. Thus, unlike traditional tests, the information generated is completely useless to the parent and child. Without the ability to analyze how students answered the questions, educators are not able to use them to drive instruction or shape pedagogy.

Although testing companies work hard to make sure the content of exams remains embargoed, some information that has been gleaned is cause for great concern. Questions are ambiguous; there are often questions with multiple correct answers and others with no correct answer. The readability of the tests is often two or three grade levels higher than a student’s typical development. The passing rates are set after the test is taken. (That’s how former education commissioner John King was able to accurately predict that 70 percent of students would fail the exam months before they were administered.) These reports, if accurate, underscore the limited (if any) value that these tests provide to the educational system…

I am proud of the education I received in Greenport public schools and I am also proud that my children reside in this district. What takes place in the halls of our community’s school cannot be quantified by a test. Yet as a result of the demographic makeup, our school, its teachers and the district itself will have a far greater risk of sanctions than a school that is wealthier.

Since the NYS Common Core tests provide none of the valuable feedback of a proper test and seemingly disregard all the unique factors that contribute to the complexity of a particular district or region, I have concluded that if my children took these tests I would be complicit in the loss of local control leading to the possible erosion of public education here in Greenport.

My children are vessels to be filled; they are not commodities and will not be used as pawns to create market share for charter schools.

Thus, after much consideration, the only recourse left is to withhold consent. My children will be refusing these exams.

The fifteen comments posted on the newspaper’s website thanked Wallace, and several said their children too would refuse the tests. This is the kind of information that helps people understand how pointless the tests are, except as a way to label students. They do not provide any information about student progress other than a score. There is nothing in the report to help teachers know where they need support. Like the parent group called “Long Island Opt Out,” Wallace educated the public, which helps to explain the large numbers of opt outs on Long Island.