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Advocacy News

Her son began hating school. What happened when she found out why.

The Washington Post

Answer Sheet

By Valerie Strauss September 28, 2015

On April 13, a school bus passes a sign encouraging parents to refuse to allow their children to take state school tests in Rotterdam, N.Y. (Mike Groll/AP)

The movement among parents to refuse to allow their children to take Common Core-aligned standardized tests has been growing for several years in states across the country, with some 20 percent of eligible students refusing to take them this past spring in New York and tens of thousands more sitting out the exams in other states as well. Here’s why and how one mother began the opt-out movement in New York.

This was written by Carol Burris, the executive director of the nonprofit Network for Public Education Fund. Burris retired in June as an award-winning principal at a New York high school, and she is the author of numerous articles, books and blog posts (including on The Answer Sheet) about the botched school reform efforts in her state. She was named New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York and the National Association of Secondary School Principals. In 2010, she was selected as the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State.

By Carol Burris

Jeanette Deutermann did not intend to become the leader of the most effective testing opt-out organization in the United States. She was a suburban mom trying to figure out why her son no longer wanted to go to school.

The year that Long Island Opt Out began, Tyler Deutermann was an unhappy fourth-grader with school anxiety that was increasing every day. During February 2012, Jeanette Deutermann began investigating why her son, who once loved school, so much now hated it.

“I saw it emerge a little bit during testing season in third grade,” Deutermann said. “But then the test anxiety became constant in fourth grade. After speaking with teachers and parents, I knew it was the testing.”

The 2011-12 school year was the first year that teachers in New York State were to be evaluated by the test scores of their students. Anxiety across the board was running high. She read a letter signed by over one-third of New York’s principals that explained why evaluating teachers by test scores would have unintended negative consequences on students. Jeanette began to connect the dots, and she realized that high-stakes testing was the reason that her child and his education were falling apart.

“I had to speak out and let other parents know. I felt like a whistleblower — I did not have a choice,” she explained.

Tyler, she decided, would not take the test. In order  to organize other like-minded parents, she began a Facebook group — Long Island Opt-Out. It started out small — the first year, 1,000 students on Long Island refused the test. Membership in the group ballooned to over 16,000 in year two. Today, Long Island Opt Out has over 23,000 members.

Opt Out has spread across the state of New York like wildfire. In the spring of 2014, between 55,000 and 65,000 students refused to take the Grades 3-8 Common Core tests, with about half of those numbers coming from Long Island. In 2015, the number was in excess of 200,000 test refusals — which meant that 20 percent of all possible test takers’ parents said, “not my child.”

New York is not alone in test resistance. Opt out in Florida began when teacher Ceresta Smith joined five others from Florida, Colorado, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania to start a national organization, United Opt Out.   By 2013, the Florida opt-out movement began to take off. According to parent activist Sandy Stenoff: “We formed Opt Out Orlando in the spring of 2013 as a way to start with our local community, and in anticipation of Common Core rolling out.  The group has grown steadily, but exploded this year, with the implementation of the new CCSS-aligned Florida State Assessment, particularly because of the technical challenges of online implementation.”

Stenoff, via Opt Out Orlando, started to help local districts start their own opt out groups in 2014. They were aided in their effort this year when Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart announced that there would be no opt outs permitted on her watch.  Numbers skyrocketed from 800 to 3,000 in one month.  Stenoff sees opt out in her state growing steadily.  “There are now more than 40 opt-out groups in 34 of Florida’s 67 districts.  As of last week, we are now The Opt Out Florida Network.”

Last year about 4,000 Albuquerque, N.M., students refused the PARCC Common Core tests. In response, Albuquerque public schools are publishing an Opt Out kit for parents in order to help opt out go smoother this year.

New Jersey Opt Out began in 2013, started by two sisters, Jean McTavish and Susan Schutt. Fifteen percent of all eleventh-graders in New Jersey refused the state PARCC exam this year. In Colorado’s Cheyenne Mountain High School, only 9 percent of the 11th-graders, 16 percent of the 10th-graders and 30 percent of the ninth-graders showed up to take the PARCC Common Core tests  this past spring. In Pennsylvania, elementary math state test refusals exceeded 4,000. In Washington State, 62,000 students opted out of the Common Core SBAC tests.

Monty Neil is the executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest). He saw testing resistance begin in the 1999-2000 school year, but during the last three years it has become “a real phenomenon,” he said. In January of 2013, the teachers of Seattle’s Garfield High announced their unanimous vote to not give the school’s Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests. One month later, the teachers of Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy in Chicago refused to give the state’s ISAT exam. When students began organizing testing walkouts in Portland, Oregon’s Cleveland High School two months after that, Neil realized that “we were on the edge of a movement.”

Neil attributes the growth of opt out to “testing overkill and its high stakes.” He believes that parents see the new teacher evaluations as administrators using their child’s test results to move against teachers whom they like. Parents see that “my kid is not happy” and they question testing, Neil said. These concrete experiences are turning the tide.

And  that tide has turned. The latest Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll shows that the public rejects testing as the driver of policy and sanctions. Sixty-four percent of those polled said that there was far too much emphasis on testing in schools, and a majority does not want teachers evaluated by test scores.  Seven out of 10 said that Washington should not have a say in holding schools accountable or determining testing — a clear repudiation of the policies pushed by No Child Left Behind and accelerated by Race to the Top. On the issue of opt out, the public was about evenly split.

Meanwhile, Jeanette and parent activists are gearing up for another season of opt out. They are determined to grow the movement until high-stakes testing is stopped.  And they continue to connect the dots, deepening their understanding of how testing threatens the local public schools that they love.

Opt-out parents are now seeing beyond the stress of their children and becoming attuned to the connections between testing and charter schools, the Common Core, teacher evaluations based on test scores, school closings and other politically popular policies designed to undermine public schooling. Opt out has become a movement of civil disobedience and of conscience against corporate school reform.

And what might education look like if testing goes away? Jeanette Deutermann surveyed teachers to find out how instruction would change if they knew in the fall that nearly all of their students were opting out of spring testing. Their responses are well worth the read. You can find them here.

You can read article with live links here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/09/28/her-son-began-hating-school-what-happened-when-she-found-out-why/

 

 

Advocacy News

Update on Testing

As members of the Advocacy Committee we were thrilled to learn that 96 of our children have been taking the teacher-designed alternative assessments this week rather than the state tests, a number that represents 70% of the students in the testing grades at TNS this year. Governor Cuomo raised the stakes on these tests even higer this year and our community responded with a resounding No! in support of TNS curriculum and teachers.

We are not alone. Although no official numbers are released yet we do know that the numbers of families refusing the state tests is up across the state this year. One informed observer is estimating that 300,000 students are not taking the test in the state; last year it was 60,000. (See these two articles from today’s Daily News http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/fed-up-parents-revolt-state-standardized-tests-article-1.2185433, http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/thousands-boycott-state-mandated-exams-article-1.2185411)

TNS families should know that it is not too late to refuse the state tests for your child.  The English Language Arts (ELA) portion of the testing comes to a close tomorrow, but three days of math testing begins next week and families can refuse this section (and thereby choose the alternative math assessment) even if their child took the ELA. Speak with your child’s teacher or with Dyanthe if you would like to refuse the state tests or have further questions about the tests generally.

There is a link below to a short video Debra (TNS parent) and her collaborator John-Carlo Monti made of the testing meeting held at TNS.  It features Collin, Grace, Laura and parents talking about the state tests and the alternative assessments.

https://vimeo.com/124916728

The Advocacy Committee

Advocacy News

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. 

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].

WE SHOULD NOT LET THESE OUTRAGEOUS AND ANTI-DEMOCRATIC POLICIES DICTATE WHAT HAPPENS IN OUR SCHOOLS.

PLEASE SHARE THIS ARTICLE AND CONTACT ANDREW CUOMO TO OPPOSE HIS PROPOSALS. 

 

Advocacy News

Follow the Money - Democracy Now! Video

Why is Governor Cuomo so in favor of charter schools and testing? Why this intense push for “reform” now? When it comes to politicians, it always pays to follow the money.  As you can see in Rachel’s post below, in his latest column for the New York Daily News, journalist and Democracy Now! co-host Juan González did just that.

Andrew Cuomo is one of the most successful campaign fundraisers in the Democratic party and a big chunk of his campaign cash came from very wealthy hedge fund managers who have been pushing for charter schools for years donating tens of millions of dollars in New York state. Gov. Cuomo is the single biggest recipient, hauling in $4.8 million, according to the report. Cuomo’s spokeswoman told The New York Times that the governor’s proposals were necessary “because he will not continue the failed strategy of throwing money at a broken education bureaucracy.”

In light of these large campaign donations, it is hard to trust Cuomo’s uncritical acceptance of his donors’ solutions to New York’s problems with public education.

Please watch and share the Democracy Now! video explaining what  motivates these wealthy donors and why Cuomo may be pushing their agenda.

Democracy Now
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