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Frequently Asked Questions about Testing at TNS

TNS Families,

The Advocacy Committee has put together a list of Frequently Asked Questions about the high stakes testing in New York. Since its founding, TNS families and teachers have fought countless battles to keep TNS a place where teachers can feel safe using their best judgement and their best practice, free from the endlessly shifting state and city education department mandates.

We view our emphatic NO! to this year’s state tests to be in this tradition of protesting policies that would damage our school, undermine teachers, and negatively impact our children’s education. In our opinion, refusing to allow our children to take the tests is the most direct and effective response to the attack on our school and all public schools.

We’ve posted a few articles in Advocacy’s tab at the TNS website for background reading on Cuomo’s attack on public schools in New York. We have also included links to articles you can look to for more information on the issues.

Here are our answers to some commonly asked questions about this issue:

Is My Child in a Testing Grade? Yes, probably.

There are two sets of state-mandated, high-stakes tests, one administered in grades K-2, the other in grades 3-5.  The K-2 tests are administered solely to give teachers a grade—the data does not impact students’ careers at all. Last year TNS did not administer these tests because a large majority of our families signed a letter refusing to allow their children to take them.  We would like to have all TNS K-2 families sign a letter of refusal this year. This is because these tests are based on a deeply flawed premise, do not give the teachers meaningful information on their students, interrupt curriculum, and seem to be a tool designed to fire teachers without any input from the principal or the community. (Also see Governor Cuomo’s recent proposals on teacher evaluations, which would make the tests the determining factor in teacher evaluations.)

All TNS students in grades 3-5 are assessed. The high-stakes state-mandated tests consist of three days of Math and three days English Language Arts (ELA) and will be administered in mid April. TNS teachers have created their own assessments to be administered to the students whose families refuse the tests. They will be given on the same days, at the same time. These are designed to assess students on the tasks and on the skills that they are learning in the classrooms--in math and ELA. Whereas the state tests are notoriously poorly written (by a for-profit corporation) and use flawed scoring,  the teacher-designed tests align with TNS curriculum and are more useful for the classroom teachers. (Scores from the state-mandated tests are not released until August, so even if teachers thought the results were useful most would not get them in time to use them.) Also, they cannot be used to fire teachers.

Students in 4th Grade take a state-mandated Science test, but TNS teachers do not object to these tests as they allow the students to apply what they’ve learned in creative ways.  It is a much better test than the Math and ELA and TNS students do very well on them.

If We Refuse the Tests Will My Child’s Teacher Be Evaluated? Yes, and much more effectively!

TNS has a process of ongoing teacher evaluation and mentoring. It involves regular principal observations, ongoing collaborative review of student work, teacher-to-teacher visits of classes and grade level group study.  It is a system that gives a much better picture of the work that a teacher is doing than the data a test provides.

But Can’t The Test Help The School Understand How Well the Teachers Are Doing? No.

The research clearly indicates that conclusions around teacher performance based on student growth in high stakes test are inaccurate and invalid.  The American Statistical Association concluded that teacher evaluations and ratings should not be based on high-stakes test results, and warned that doing so will have the unintended consequence of reducing the quality of instruction.  The National Academy of Education and the American Education Research Association issued a joint statement with the same conclusion: “high-stakes, individual level decisions or comparisons …should be avoided.”

But Won’t the Test Help Me Know How My Child is Doing? No.

The test may tell you something about your child’s test-taking abilities (not his or her knowledge or thinking) on that specific day under those specific conditions.  There is nothing to indicate that the results wouldn’t look entirely different on a different day or under different conditions, especially with younger children. Additionally, the test is designed to separate students and sort them so that even the slightest differences seem substantial. It is scored to create  “4s, “3s,” “2s,” and “1s;” it is designed for many students to fail. “After all, someone’s got to be below average on a normalized test; someone has got to lose, even if everyone is learning… . Scottie Pippin was not a bad basketball player just because Michael Jordan was better. Roger Moore was not a bad James Bond because some people liked Sean Connery more. Merlot isn’t a bad wine just because you think Pinot Noir tastes better with lamb. And a child is not necessarily being ‘left behind’ just because other kids are further ahead on standardized tests.”

Will My Child Be Penalized for Not Taking the State-Mandated Tests in Grades 3-5? No.

If you refuse to allow your child to sit for the state test she will take the TNS teacher-designed assessment on the same days.  Last year more than 50% of TNS students in grades 3-5 refused the state tests in favor of this option and everything went smoothly for students and teacher proctors in both test settings. There is no lasting impact on the student either way. (Even in schools that place a lot of emphasis on the tests, scores are only one factor in determining whether a child is promoted to the next grade.) The middle schools most popular with TNS families—East Side, Tompkins Square Middle School, I.C.E., for example—do not agree with the high stakes tests and do not ask for them in the admissions process.  There are some public middle schools in the city that look at the scores from the 4th grade tests as part of the admissions process, although the DOE requires that the scores can only be one factor in the admissions decision.  These schools routinely take students from private schools and students who transfer in from outside the state and Dyanthe and Noemi will help you to explain the lack of test scores if necessary. The 3rd and 5th grade tests do not matter for students at all. (But they do for the teacher evaluations—see the theme here?)

Will TNS Be Penalized If Students Refuse To Take The Test? We don’t believe so.

There is a growing movement in New York and nationally that our Governor is ignoring with his increasing emphasis on the tests. There were no negative repercussions for us last year when more than half of our families refused, and we now have a well-established chancellor who is friendly to our position. We do, however believe that all public school students in New York state will suffer if we allow these testing policies to continue to drive education policy. By showing that you don’t need a test to validate the education your child is receiving, you are also showing that you value all of the things that are important to the school that are not measured by the test, like creativity, community, and the arts.  These essential components of our school are very much at risk if we stand by and do not speak out against these tests. We must also stand up and protect our teachers. It’s a crazy system and we cannot test prep our way out of it, nor should we. “Here’s something parents need to understand. Even though, when our students take the standardized tests, most of them do just fine… many [] teachers do not. Teachers’ ratings are not based on their students’ raw scores for the year, but whether their students improved from one year to the next. If a student with a ‘3’ gets one fewer question correct in 4th grade than she did in 3rd, that student might not have demonstrated the “added value” their teacher is expected to have instilled. Even though the student has mastered that grade’s content even though it’s just one question. And that teacher might, therefore, be rated in the bottom percentile of teachers.”

What Lesson Am I Teaching My Child If We Refuse the Test? That it is important to stand up for what you believe in. 

Refusing the tests is not dangerous and is increasingly common,  but it does go against what many in the state are doing. It is a wonderful opportunity to have conversations with your child about how and when we refuse to stand by when we are being asked to do something that is wrong.  As Jeanette Deutermann, a NY parent and test-refusing advocate argues, we want to teach our children to be Upstanders, not Bystanders!

If I Don’t Let My Children Take the Tests Am I Depriving Them of Valuable Test-Taking Experiences? Will they Bomb Their SATs? No. 

Your child can improve his or her scores on a particular test by dedicating hours and hours to prepping for it, but that doesn’t translate to any other test.  Some schools, for example, dedicate their entire curriculum to prep for these state tests, and the kids who make it through do tend to do better on these specific state tests, but not on the specialized high school exam, never mind the SATs. In other words, students can waste time prepping for a test, or they can get a good rich education where they actually read books, do hands-on experiments and solve puzzles and then do some test prep in their junior year of high school for the SATs.  They’ll be better prepared for college that way. 

Dyanthe’s Weekly Letters

Week of March 23, 2015

Dear Neighborhood School Families,

This is the second year that teachers in the testing grades at TNS have not interrupted their integrated thematic studies and rich investigations in mathematics to do “test prep”.  Instead, teachers are integrating test preparation into the curriculum in more authentic ways.  And of course, our students continue to think deeply and critically about their reading and to solve challenging, complex math problems.  I hope that you will join us this week for the forum on 3rd, 4th and 5th grade testing.  We will meet right after Sing on Wednesday in the auditorium.

At TNS, we value student and family input and feedback throughout the year.  However, it is at this time each year that we ask for a different kind of feedback from the entire community. We will distribute an official Department of Education (DOE) survey before and after school this week.  The survey can be sent in or completed online.  This survey gathers information about your overall satisfaction with our school and results are published on the DOE’s public website. Completion rates are also important as they reflect our level of parent involvement to the DOE.  Any surveys not completed will be sent home via backpack mail later this week.  

Mark your calendars:

  • The Diversity Committee Meeting is tomorrow morning after drop-off in the small cafeteria.

  • Sing is Wednesday at 8:45am in the auditorium.

  • Our March PTA meeting is Thursday morning at 8:40am in the PTA room.  

  • Camp Speers Meeting for Grace and Chelsea/Jane’s classes and their families is this Thursday at 5:30pm in the Library.

  • Friday is our very first UnBake Sale!  Come prepared to buy healthy treats at drop off - from fruit animals to vegetable creatures to a juice bar.  All proceeds from the sale benefit our PTA fundraising goals that support many programs in our school.

  • Comedy Night is Friday at 6pm at The Gotham Club.  Please join us for a much needed laugh.  Ticket are on sale in the lobby and on our website.

  • Our Parents of Students with Disabilities Support Group meets Monday, March 30 at 8:40am in the PTA room.

Have a good week,


News & Announcements

Comedy Night!

In the mood for a good laugh ...Join The Neighborhood School for a hilarious PARENT’S night out on Friday, March 27th at 5:30pm at Gotham Comedy Vintage Room.  Seating is limited so grab some seats while you can.

Incredible line up includes:

 Carmen Lynch (Letterman)

Michael Bonner (BET)

Robin Montague (Carolines Comedy Club)

Kimberly Graham (Gotham)

Vince August (ABC’s “What Would You Do?”)

and, our very own TNS parent  - CARLA JOHNSTON

 Seating begins at 5:30 for a 6-8 PM show.

TIckets: $25 for one $40 for two. Proceeds support The Neighborhood School Arts + Music!


For more info:


Advocacy News

Follow the Money - Weekend Read

The Nation published a very detailed and well-reported article on the longstanding and continuing love affair between a few hedge fund billionaires and Governor Cuomo. The relationship dates back to 2010 and netted many millions of campaign dollars for Cuomo. The entire piece is worth reading as it describes the complicated network of PACs, non-profits, government officials, and hedge funds who have been working to promote charter schools and “value-added modeling,” that is, testing to measure teacher performance above all else.

From the article:

“From a purely business standpoint, however, such cost-effective education reform proposals do make sense for the hedge-fund community, especially given the alternative education reform option: the legally required equitable funding of New York public schools, as mandated by the state’s highest court in 2007. Low-income New York school districts haven’t received their legally mandated funding since 2009 and the state owes its schools a whopping $5.9 billion, according to a recent study by the labor-backed group Alliance for Quality Education. Yet somehow in this prolonged period of economic necessity, billionaire hedge-fund managers

As a recent Hedge Clippers report pointed out, the hedge-fund community has achieved these gains over the last decade and a half by buying political influence and carving out . Since 2000, 570 hedge fund managers and top executives have poured $39.6 million into the campaign coffers of New York state politicians. Thus, despite New York’s progressive reputation, its school-district funding-distribution system is actually one of ” [all emphasis added].




News & Announcements

What is an UnBake Sale?

Hey families, 

I know you’ve seen the posters all over school for the UNBake Sale but you might be wondering exactly what that is so here’s some more information.

Since March is National Nutrition Month, we thought this would be a clever way to raise money for our school in support of health and nutrition. As we all know, a classic bake sale is the go-to school fundraiser and we do plenty of those, but  usually the cookies, cupcakes and other treats are not always so healthy, and sometimes don’t meet the new Smart Snacks in Schools guidelines set by the USDA in June 2014.  Don’t get me wrong, bake sales are delicious and bring in some much needed funds for us but this is a new twist on a classic idea. An UnBake Sale gives kids the option to choose healthy snacks, made primarily of fruits and vegetables. To promote health and nutrition, we’ve partnered with Bolthouse Farms, the premier farm fresh refrigerated beverage company to participate in their national program called the “UnBake Sale”.  The Neighborhood School is proud to be their inaugural NYC school to join their “100 School Pledge.” 

So join us Friday, March 27 for an UnBake Sale and come prepared to buy healthy treats at drop off and at pick up - from fruit animals to vegetable creatures to a juice bar, we’ll have a table of healthy goods for sale. All proceeds from the sale benefit our PTA fundraising goals that support many programs in our school.

Want to ‘Unbake’ for the sale? Just let me know via email (Ellaleitner@gmail.com) or Victoria (vreichelt@me.com). Don’t know what to ‘Unbake’? You can Google “fruit animals” for some fun ideas or click here: http://www.theunbakesale.com/


Ella (Sasha and Zack’s mom)

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