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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].




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

Advocacy News

Hedge fund executives give ‘til it hurts to politicians, especially Cuomo, to get more charter schools

by Juan Gonzales


Wednesday, March 11, 2015,

Outside the Harvard Club in Midtown, a group of parents from the Alliance for Quality Education picketed as they chanted, “Public schools are not for sale!”

But the hedge fund chiefs inside had other ideas.

The title of the hedge fund bosses’ all-day symposium on Tuesday said it all: “Bonds & Blackboards: Investing in Charter Schools.” Sponsored by the Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, its aim was to convince investors there’s money to be made in charter schools.

Hedge fund executives have unleashed a tsunami of money the past few years aimed at getting New York’s politicians to close more public schools and expand charter schools.

They’ve done it through direct political contributions, through huge donations to a web of pro-charter lobbying groups, and through massive TV and radio commercials.

Daniel Loeb, chairman of the board of the Success Academy network, has given $62,000 to Gov. Cuomo.

Larry Busacca/Getty Images for The New York Times

Daniel Loeb, chairman of the board of the Success Academy network, has given $62,000 to Gov. Cuomo.

Since 2000, 570 hedge fund managers have shelled out nearly $40 million in political contributions in New York State, according to a recent report by Hedge Clippers, a union-backed research group.

The single biggest beneficiary has been Andrew Cuomo, who received $4.8 million from them.

Several of the governor’s big hedge fund donors, such as Carl Icahn, of Icahn Enterprises, Julian Robertson of Tiger Management, and Daniel Loeb, of Third Point LLC, are also longtime backers of charter schools.

Loeb is chairman of the board of the Success Academy network run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. He’s given $62,000 to Cuomo, while 18 other members of the Success Academy board or their family members have given nearly $600,000 to the governor, according to state campaign records.

Joel Greenblatt donated $45,000 to Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee that, in turn, has given Cuomo $72,000.

Joel Greenblatt donated $45,000 to Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee that, in turn, has given Cuomo $72,000.

But the direct donations don’t tell the full story.

In this era after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case, the indirect contributions are even more astounding.

Take, for example, a group called New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany. It financed a massive advertising campaign late last year aimed at keeping the state Senate in Republican hands, largely by blasting upstate Democrats as tied to Mayor de Blasio.

That group received $3.5 million from just six hedge fund backers of charter schools.


CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Carl Icahn, Chairman of Icahn Enterprises and founder of several Bronx charter schools, donated $250K to the group New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, which aims to keep the state Senate ine GOP hands.

Loeb contributed $1 million. So did Robertson, whose son Spencer runs a Brooklyn charter school. The others included Paul Tudor Jones, founder and chairman of Excellence Charter School, with $500,000; Icahn, who founded several Bronx charter schools, with $250,000; and Gotham Capital’s Joel Greenblatt, a founder of Success Academy, with $250,000.

The money they gave to New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany thus rivaled the $4.8 million that the teachers union, with its 185,000 members, spent on all political contributions.

But the same people also gave money to other pro-charter groups. Greenblatt, for instance, donated $45,000 to Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee that, in turn, has given Cuomo $72,000.

Two other pro-charter groups, Families for Excellent Schools and the political arm of Students First New York, spent more than $10 million last year on their lobbying effort.

Paul Tudor Jones, founder and chief investment officer of Tudor Investment Corporation, also donated half a million to the GOP-supporting group which blasts upstate Democrats as ties to de Blasio.

© Eduardo Munoz / Reuters/REUTERS

Paul Tudor Jones, founder and chief investment officer of Tudor Investment Corporation, also donated half a million to the GOP-supporting group which blasts upstate Democrats as ties to de Blasio.

All that money and lobbying triumphed when Cuomo and the Legislature approved up to $2,600 more per pupil for charter school facilities, with New York City expected to pick up a big portion of that.

Now, the governor wants the Legislature to increase the state limit on charter schools.

Little wonder the big-money hedge fund managers gathered at the Harvard Club. They were there to examine, according to program literature, “the current state of the charter schools facilities financing landscape and new innovative financing mechanisms.”

In other words, all that money thrown at the politicians is about to pay off.

“Their agenda has nothing to do with improving our public schools,” said Zakiya Ansari, spokeswoman for the parents picketing outside.

Advocacy News

The Case for Refusing the State Tests--A Video

Jeanette Deutermann, a Long Island parent, spoke last week at a NYC Opt Out event.  She makes a strong case that refusing to take the tests is the most  the most powerful stand we can take against the policies Governor Cuomo is proposing, which make the tests the only thing that matters.

Watch her speak.  It’s an amateur recording but an eloquent and knowledgeable delivery!