Archives for the month of: December, 2015

Let’s end 2015 on a happy note.
Earlier we discussed an absurd editorial in the New York Times about the necessity of standardized tests, without which no one would know anything about whether children were learning anything at all.

But lo! In a different section of the same newspaper is a story about a preschool where children spend four hours daily in the great outdoors. Do you think the education editorial writer of the New York Times reads the New York Times?


Read this: it is happening in Seattle, just a few blocks from Bill Gates’ headquarters. Do you think he knows?




“SEATTLE — Three-year-old Desi Sorrelgreen’s favorite thing about his preschool is “running up hills.” His classmate Stelyn Carter, 5, likes to “be quiet and listen to birds — crows, owls and chickadees,” as she put it. And for Joshua Doctorow, 4, the best part of preschool just may be the hat he loves to wear to class (black and fuzzy, with flaps that come down over his ears).

“All three children are students at Fiddleheads Forest School here, where they spend four hours a day, rain or shine, in adjacent cedar grove “classrooms” nestled among the towering trees of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens.
The program, in its third year, is less than seven miles from Microsoft, which means some parents sit in front of computers all day inventing the digital future, while Fiddleheads children make letters out of sticks or cart rocks around in wheelbarrows.

“Founded in 2012 by Kit Harrington, a certified preschool teacher, and Sarah Heller, a naturalist and science educator, Fiddleheads is part of a larger national trend that goes beyond Waldorf education, which has long emphasized outdoor play, even in inclement weather.

“There’s the Chippewa Nature Center in Midland, Mich., founded in 2007, where children wear hats and mittens during daily outdoor sessions in the frigid winter months. At the All Friends Nature School in San Diego, which became a nature preschool in 2006, children often spend mornings making sand castles at the beach. And at the Drumlin Farm Community Preschool in Lincoln, Mass., founded in 2008, children learn to feed farm animals, grow vegetables and explore the farm’s many acres of wildlife habitat.

“Whether the schools are emerging in reaction to concerns that early education has become increasingly academic or simply because parents think traipsing around in the woods sounds like more fun than sitting at a desk, they are increasingly popular.

“The Natural Start Alliance, founded in 2013 in response to demand from a growing number of nature preschool providers, now counts 92 schools that deliberately put nature at the heart of their programs, and where children spend a significant portion of each day outside, according to director Christy Merrick. That’s up from 20 schools in 2008, when Patti Bailie, a professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, counted them as part of her doctoral research.”



I know I am supposed to be taking a break, but I assumed the holidays would be a quiet time. I was wrong.


The Los Angeles Times published an editorial today about charter schools that pretends to be balanced, but it is not. It begins by saying that it is somehow wrong to be for or against charters; one needs a more “nuanced” view. It reports on new research that shows students in charter high schools enter with higher scores than those who do not enroll in charter high schools; that charter middle schools get impressive results; and that charter high schools get unimpressive results. These findings might be reasons to oppose Eli Broad’s proposal to put half the students in Los Angeles into privately-managed charter schools, but that’s not what the editorial says. A photo caption alongside the editorial says “A charter school expansion could be great for L.A.” What happened to that “nuanced” view”?


If you care about the future of public education in the United States, if you don’t like the idea that billionaires should be allowed to privatize public institutions, why shouldn’t you oppose Eli Broad’s plan? Why should you be on the fence?


If you read the editorial to the end, you will see that education coverage in the Los Angeles Times–apparently including the editorials–is underwritten by a group of billionaires, including Eli Broad. But of course the piper doesn’t call the tune. Except when he does.


The best part about the editorial is the comments that follow, each of them expressing a thoughtful response about why it would not be a good idea to let Eli Broad take control of half the children in LAUSD just because he wants to.

I wrote the last entry before I saw Peter Greene’s razor-sharp evisceration of the New York Times’ editorial praise for high-stakes testing and the Common Core. The editorial cited a number of spurious sources, all of them from cheerleaders for the Common Core.


I took on the general point that the Times makes: that high-stakes testing produces higher achievement. Surely after 15 years of NLB and Race to the Top, and five years of Common Core, no one believes that unless they are paid to do so or are hoodwinked by the former.


Peter looks at the underlying sources for the Times’ editorial and identifies each of them as fraudulent. For example, the editorial cites Education Trust for its claim that one of every five high school graduates were rejected by the military, but Greene finds this response from the Department of Defense:


For the military, the largest single disqualifying factor is health, including such problems as obesity. The estimate for those who are disqualified only because of aptitude is about 2 percent, said Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman. That includes not just people who failed the test but also those with other academic deficiencies, such as failure to get a GED.


The editorial claims that high school graduates in South Carolina won’t be prepared for the jobs available at automakers in the state.


But, writes Peter, this is not true.


Five minutes of googling indicates that they can be less worried. BMW appears ready to add more jobs in South Carolina, and these jobs include Forklift Operator and Production Associate. Production associates must have a year of steady job experience and be able to pass a drug test; they must also be willing to work any day they’re called, for a 10-12 hour shift. Forklift operators must have experience operating a forklift. Clearly more AP math courses would help graduates be better-prepared for these jobs.


How could the New York Times get everything so wrong? Peter says it is because they relied for their “data” on organizations funded by the Gates Foundation to promote the Common Core standards. Are these trustworthy sources?


He writes:


I suppose they are “bi-partisan” in the same way that The Tobacco Institute and most lobbying groups are “bi-partisan.” In that sense, the NYT board just stopped short of flat out lying by saying that these two groups are impartial or unbiased. But the Education Trust is a Gates-funded advocacy group from the earliest days of the Core. And Achieve is the organization that “helped” the CCSSO and NGA write the Common Core to begin with– no organization is more highly invested in the continued support and push of the Core Standards and the tests that are welded to them. And they earlier this month released a report that says– well, it says pretty much exactly what this editorial says.


In short, the NYT board has done the opposite of journalism here. This belongs with such classics as “Cigarettes Are Totally Good For You” or “US Must Solve Critical New Car Gap.” This is endorsing one political candidate without ever actually talking to any of the others.


The problems that face public education are complicated. In fact, right now they’re more complicated than ever because we have a muddy mix of actual problems (e.g. poverty, refusal to fully fund), created problems (e.g. charters stripping public schools of resources), and made-up problems (e.g. Oh Nos! Our students aren’t taking enough standardized tests!). All of these problems exist at the intersection of larger national issues such as income inequality, systemic racism, and the proper relationship between corporate and citizen interests.


What would help? Information. Correct, well-researched, thoughtful information. If you want to find one of the problems getting in the way of finding a remedy for everything that ails education, a good first step would be for journalists to stop uncritically running the PR of the people who want to dismantle public education and sell off the parts. The NYT did not solve any problems today, and they didn’t identify any, either. But they surely provided an example of one of them. Come on, New York Times– do journalism better.




The New York Times published an editorial (“The Counterfeit High School Diploma”) today lamenting the poor preparation of high school graduates. The Times enthusiastically supported No Child Left Behind and applauds the continued federal mandate for annual testing. The editorial is a caricature of the criticism of high-stakes standardized testing. The editorialist believes that opposition to high-stakes testing was cooked up by teachers’ unions to protect their members, ignoring the parent-led opt out movement and the solid research base for opposing such testing (including statements by the American Statistical Association, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Educational Research Association).



The Times’ editorial says:



Teachers unions and other critics of federally required standardized tests have behaved in recent years as though killing the testing mandate would magically remedy everything that ails education in the United States. In reality, getting rid of the testing requirement in the early grades would make it impossible for the country to know what if anything children were learning from year to year.



The statement above is sheer nonsense. The loudest criticism of “federally required standardized tests” has come from parent groups, not teachers unions. No one has ever said that “killing the testing mandate would magically remedy everything that ails education in the United States.” And it is beyond ridiculous to state that without the testing requirement it would “impossible for the country to know what if anything children were learning from year to year.”



Note to New York Times editorial writer from Planet Reality: There is a federal testing program called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) that reports on what U.S. students are learning every other year. NAEP has been testing students since the 1970s and reporting on states and individual districts since 1992. The scores on NAEP have steadily increased until the adoption of NCLB in 2002, when progress slowed. Test score gains came to a crashing halt in 2015, as NCLB, Race to the Top and Common Core converged in a frenzy of exactly what the New York Times wants.



If students are graduating with empty high school diplomas, it cannot be because there wasn’t enough testing. We have had a federal policy of high-stakes testing, and students are graduating unprepared for college and careers. So the New York Times’ solution: keep on doing what hasn’t worked for 15 years. Keep high-stakes testing and add Common Core so that standards are higher.



The New York Times blames states and teachers unions for the failure of high-stakes testing. It bemoans the loss of enthusiasm for the Common Core standards. Maybe the editorialist should do some research and learn that high-stakes testing creates perverse incentives to game the system, teach to the test, and cheat. Maybe he could start by reading Tom Loveless’s prediction in 2012 that the Common Core would make little or no difference in test scores, because the test-score differences within states (with exactly the same standards and curricula) are as great as differences between states. Test scores reflect demographics, not curricula, standards, or teacher quality. Anyone who believes that the Common Core standards will magically improve achievement and close achievement gaps has not been paying attention to research, evidence, NAEP, or reality.







Many articles about the remarkable Opt Out movement claim that unions started the movement. But parents in New York don’t take orders from the union. They listen to their peers. The unions did not support opting out. Only a few weeks before testing began, the president of the state union NYSUT endorsed opting out. 
The leader of the movement on Long Island began her work three years earlier. Jeanette Deutermann was just named person of the year by a Long Island newspaper. She is a concerned mother and a dedicated activist. She founded Opt Out Long Island. In 2015, fully half the eligible students on Long Island opted out. Albany got the message. 
Congratulations, Jeanette.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is supposed to be quiet. Not this year for the assessment reform movement, as this collection of news stories, opinion columns, and social media postings makes clear. Across the U.S., grassroots organizers are using this period to prepare for even more victories in 2016!



If these “Testing Resistance & Reform News” updates are helpful in your work, please consider making a year-end donation to FairTest to support their collection and distribution, as well as our activist campaigns. Not only will your contribution be completely tax-deductible but it will also be DOUBLED via a matching grant from FairTest Board member Deborah Meier, the first public school educator to win a MacArthur “genius” award.

See you in 2016!



National Assessment Reformers Push States to Adopt More Sensible Testing


Colorado Standardized Test Results Yield Nothing New


Connecticut Needed Teacher Evaluation System Overhaul Now Possible Under ESSA
Connecticut Feds Claim Opt-Out Rates Too High in 148 Schools


Florida How Much Time Do Students Really Spend on Testing?


Georgia What the New Federal Education Law Means for Local Public Schools
Georgia Test-Based “Merit Pay” for Teachers Does Not Work


Illinois Students and Schools Should Not Be Defined By a Single Test Score


Indiana Teachers Call for State Testing Pause
Indiana Time to Find Better Assessment System


Massachusetts Standardized Testing Is Not Educationally Meaningful
Massachusetts Feds Threaten State with Fund Loss for Not Administering Same Test to All Students
Massachusetts What Do Test Score Increases Really Mean?


Michigan Schools Celebrate More Local Control with New Federal Education Law


Montana Grading the Test: Glitchy Exams and Poor Funding
Montana Testing Cutback is “Christmas Present” for Juniors


New Jersey As Students Opt Out of State Tests, Feds Threaten to Withhold Funds


New York Opt Out Leaders Promise to Grow Test Refusal Movement
New York Shifts in Testing Policy May Help Schools in 2016
New York Twas the Night Before Christmas (for Assessment Reformers)


North Dakota K-12 Standardized Testing Needs Reform


Ohio Parents Should be Leery of New PARCC Test Results
Ohio Schools Prepare for Another Round of Testing Changes


Pennsylvania Unless We Are Careful, ESSA May Leave Some Students Behind


Rhode Island Survey Shows Parents Want Less Standardized Testing


South Carolina Teachers Won’t Be Judged on Students’ End-of-Year Exam Under Proposed Revamp
South Carolina Some Common Sense Comes to Teacher Evaluations


Tennessee Reformers Try to Spin Test-Accountability System’s Failures


Texas Assistant Superintendent Guilty of Federal Charges for Encouraging, Covering Up Test Cheating


Vermont Educators Take Wait and See Approach to New Federal Education Law


Virginia Is Testing Really the Answer to Educational Problems


West Virginia Big Testing Changes From Feds and State


ACT/SAT Many More Colleges Are Dropping Admissions Exam Requirements
List of 850+ Test-Optional or Test-Flexible Colleges and Universities


Gaslighting and Turnaround Schools


Exams Are “Disempowering Students” and Ignoring Their Abilities, International Experts Warn



Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
office- (239) 395-6773 fax- (239) 395-6779
mobile- (239) 699-0468

Common Core opt-out movement plans to forge ahead for spring 2016 testing

Updated December 26, 2015 11:28 AM

By John Hildebrand

Opponents: 4-year moratorium on scores’ use is complex, confusing

Commissioner: New regulations meant to provide ‘some relief’

Parent leaders of the test-boycott movement are forging ahead with plans for more opt-outs on Long Island and statewide, despite the state’s adoption last week of a four-year moratorium aimed at revising the Common Core curriculum and easing test anxieties.
“It’s a mess — parents ought to be screaming from the roof,” said Lisa Rudley, a Westchester County mother of three who heads a statewide coalition of parents, teachers and others known as New York State Allies for Public Education.
Opponents of Common Core testing predict the number of students in grades three through eight refusing to take state English and math tests in April could swell to 400,000 — 40 percent of those eligible to take the exams and double the number of refusals in spring 2015. That was the nation’s biggest boycott by far, with Nassau and Suffolk counties the epicenter of the movement in New York.
The revolt, which has galvanized growing numbers of parents on the Island and across the state over the past three years, was fueled by changes in the state’s teacher and principal evaluation system, which ties students’ scores on more rigorous Common Core tests to educators’ job ratings.
The Long Island Opt Out network and other groups aligned with Rudley’s organization have test-refusal forms for parents posted on their websites. Many administrators in local school districts report that hundreds of such forms already have landed on their desks, months ahead of the spring testing season.
Boycott organizers complain the new rules under the moratorium are complex and confusing. The Board of Regents, the state’s policymaking panel, adopted the “emergency regulation” earlier this month, based largely on recommendations of a task force appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Delayed until 2019-20

The new rules delay until the 2019-20 school year the use of state test scores to rate teachers in a way that might jeopardize their job status. Teachers will continue receiving such “growth” scores each year, though only on an advisory basis.
In the interim, a brand-new set of “transition” ratings will be used annually to identify teachers’ performance — from educators who are outstanding or satisfactory to those who are subpar. Those ratings will be based on classroom observations and results of student tests selected by local districts.
Some boycott leaders now call for pulling students out of local tests as well as those administered by the state.
New York State United Teachers, a union umbrella group, has taken a wait-and-see position on the moratorium, calling it a “first step” and making clear it wants further changes.
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who served on the Common Core Task Force, told school superintendents in a recent memo that the moratorium, which Regents passed on an emergency basis, was meant to respond to local complaints that the combination of test scores and teacher evaluations was “causing undue stress.”
“This emergency regulation is intended to provide you with some relief,” Elia stated.
Opponents contend, however, that many districts within the next year could be using more tests — rather than fewer — to help measure teacher performance. Parents active in the opt-out movement have adopted this as one of their talking points, and some school administrators agree.
“It has the effect of exploding the number of tests, especially in the earlier grades,” said Lorna Lewis, superintendent of Plainview-Old Bethpage schools and president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents. “It is enormously expensive for districts.”
Elia strongly rejected that argument in an interview last week.
“There will be no additional testing — please get the word out,” the commissioner said.
Some analysts at the state and local levels think concerns about increased testing are exaggerated. They point out that school districts already administer a multitude of locally chosen tests — both standardized commercial assessments and those written by their own teachers.
Such exams, if approved by the state, could be used to assess teachers as well as students, analysts said. They added that the great majority of districts will not have to worry much about this issue until 2016-17, because the state has granted them exemptions from adopting new evaluation plans for this school year.
“This gives us the remainder of this year to deal with concerns,” said Robert Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.
Supporters of the state’s current efforts noted that the demands of opponents go far beyond regulatory changes in teacher evaluations. A recent statement by the NYS Allies group called, among other things, for an outright “halt” to the state’s use of Common Core guidelines.
“We will continue to refuse to allow our children to participate in the system until ALL harmful reforms are removed from our classrooms,” said Jeanette Deutermann, a North Bellmore parent and founder of Long Island Opt Out.
“What the testing opponents are doing is shifting the goalposts, because their real purpose is to end Common Core standards,” said Stephen Sigmund, executive director of High Achievement New York. The Manhattan-based advocacy group includes representatives of business and civil rights organizations, as well as some educators.
“Nothing will end their demands,” Sigmund added. “They refuse to take yes for an answer.”
Rudley acknowledged that those who have fought the education reforms may take a breather.
“This is going to take some time to unwind, and there’s no reason for parents and students to get their toes back in the water yet,” she said. Rudley, a former investment specialist, also has volunteered as an advocate for children with autism.
NY hiring different firm

Meanwhile, the state Education Department is making efforts to win greater teacher support for its new tests. The department in July announced that it was hiring a different company, Questar Assessment Inc., to develop tests for grades three through eight, replacing the much-criticized Pearson Education.
State education officials said local teachers and administrators will be given a much bigger role, working with Questar to write new test questions. Those officials acknowledged, however, that questions developed by Pearson must be used in tests administered in April and in the spring of 2017, because of the time needed to review new questions for validity and accuracy.
Elia, who took office as education commissioner July 1, has traveled to the Island, New York City and points across the state to talk to educators and parents, logging almost 20,000 miles so far, agency spokesman Dennis Tompkins said.
The commissioner is confident the state’s plan “is the best path to lowering the volume on the debate and moving together toward an appropriate assessment and evaluation system,” Tompkins said in a statement. “And it does so by using mechanisms already in place in our schools. . . . Without assessments to measure their progress, we’d never know if we were heading in the right direction to achieve that goal.”
Cuomo shifts support

Still, the drumbeat of public opposition may be a causal factor for more change.
Cuomo, for example, already has shifted his long-held support of the Common Core standards.
“The Common Core was supposed to ensure all of our children had the education they needed to be college and career-ready — but it actually caused confusion and anxiety,” the governor said when his appointed 15-member task force released its report Dec. 10. “That ends now.”
Cuomo aides have contended there’s no reason to rescind a law that the governor pushed through the State Legislature last April that requires districts to base up to half of employees’ evaluations on state test results. However, the moratorium imposed by the Regents’ emergency regulation has the effect of postponing that section of law for four years.
The governor had said he planned to look at the task force’s recommendations in setting his legislative agenda for 2016. He is scheduled to give his State of the State address and release his proposed budget on Jan. 13 in Albany.
Spring 2016 state standardized test dates

English/Language Arts tests in grades 3-8 will be given April 5-7

Mathematics tests in grades 3-8 will be given April 13-15

I have decided to take a break from blogging during the Christmas holidays. It is the first time I have turned off the blog since it started in April 2012.

Now, after writing 13,500 posts, after reading more than 300,000 comments, I am hitting the pause button for a few days.

If you see anything interesting online or in the local news, send me a link. I will be stockpiling posts for the re-launch.

You should rest, spend time with friends and family, read, travel, relax.

That’s what I plan to do.

I hope you miss the blog. I will be back on Monday, January 4, 2016.

Have a happy, healthy, satisfying Néw Year. Hug those you love.


This is fun for today or any day.


Watch and listen to Jersey Jazzman’s favorite Christmas music and remember that he is not only a music teacher, not only a graduate student at Rutgers, not only a great blogger, but a jazzman!

EduShyster invites you to make a contribution to a wonderful group: the student activists of New Orleans.

She has written an important post about the most powerful participants in the New Orleans experiment, the voices that are seldom heard: the students.

Read about the students who launched a new organization called “Kids Rethink New Orleans,” and the work they are doing to tell their story.

She writes:

“My fave part of the Rethinkers’ approach? Students talk to their peers, not just about what’s wrong with their schools, for example, but what a different kind of education, might look like. Take the strict discipline that is now the norm in New Orleans’ charter schools. 
“Seventy seven percent of the youth interviewed, and 90% of those over 13 years old, said that they felt that their schools were designed for them to fail. *[A]lot of the rules in the school were basically made for you to fail,* says 18-year-old Jenny. When students complain that their schools make them feel like prisoners, the Rethinkers push them to try to articulate what being treated like a human being in their schools would look and feel like.

“Here’s 18-year-old Jyreisha: ‘To be treated like a human in my school is to take the red lines off of the ground and allow people to walk how they want to walk to class and wear what they want to wear on their wrists and in their hair because none of those things really matter like what color scrunchie you wear that day shouldn’t determine what kind of education you’re gonna get.’

“Other students envision schools that are focused on rebuilding still-broken neighborhoods, where the emphasis is on community rather than competition.” 


EduShyster urges you to donate to this wonderful organization.