Thursday, August 13, 2015

How far we have come... taking back our schools.  The politicians are starting to listen, hopefully 2015 will be the turning point.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Field Testing 2015: Take a Stand.

Thanks to Maude M for this image.
Once again our children will be subjected to a loss of instruction time as standardized testing forces our schools to stop learning, creativity and fun in order to feed the testing machine.

School districts across NYS have been assigned to conduct field testing to "try out" possible future test questions for mega-corporation Pearson (which produces NYS 3-8 Assessments).  Yes, your children are doing work for a multi-national corporate monster without compensation.

NYSED has assigned certain grades in each district to conduct the field tests in early June.  Check out this list to find your child's school.  (The list is alphabetical including ALL NYS schools list individually, not by district)

NYSED Field Test page

Contact your school and request:

1.  Your district not waste time and send the field tests back to Pearson without administering the tests.   Many districts across NYS did not administer the field tests last year and more will stand up for their students this year.

2. If your school will not stand up for their students,  state that your child will not take the field tests.  Send a letter or email to your principal and teachers.  Many parents included this request in their refusal letters in the spring.

3.  Organize parents in the grade levels impacted in your child's school to boycott the field testing.  Even parents who choose not to "refuse" the regular state assessments will see the field tests as a waste of time and loss of instruction.

Are the Field Tests mandated?  NO

1. The NYS Board of Regents was considering mandating that districts give the field tests, but tabled the vote to require districts to give them.

According to NYSED spokesperson Jeanne Beattie (Journal News 2/18/2015), the Board of Regents is seeking $8.4 million in the state budget to increase the number of versions of the operational assessments so more field test questions can be embedded, so "the board will not act on the proposed regulation(mandating field testing) at this time"

2. Fairport Superintendent on Field Testing not mandated:

3. Attorney & NYSAPE member  Anna Shah on field testing mandates:

4.  More from my blog:

Friday, April 10, 2015

Turn down that noise... on Brookings teacher evaluation study.

A few media outlets posted a study that claims that if a great number of students opt out of testing it would create "noise" in the educator's evaluation.  It is true that when there are fewer student scores used in a teacher's evaluation the results would be more volatile- basically the evaluation score could more dramatically go up or down-  the "noise" that Brookings refers to in its study.

A closer look at other specific items relating to New York State teacher evaluations will negate any worries from the Brookings study:

  • Teachers are already hurt by the NYS Growth Score formula.  Teacher growth scores calculated by NYS  have varied widely amongst educators.  Some have gone from low to high scores or the complete opposite.   Do we really believe that a teacher could be high-effective one year and be failing the next?  Or the opposite?

  • The American Statistical Association has stated the VAM style growth scores, similar to the one forced on local schools by NYS, is not a valid measure of teacher effectiveness and should not be used for employment or salary decisions.

So in reality teachers are hurt by students who take the test as the growth score numbers are really voodoo math.  If enough students boycott the test, teachers who have a state test tied to their grade-level or course would revert to the local SLO measures that other teachers use for the APPR scores.  This system is a much fairer system and restores local control of the educator's evaluation. The key number is 16 scores-- below 16 removes the flawed and invalid state growth score from the teacher's evaluation.  Your child will not longer be used as a weapon against his or her teacher!!  

From NYSED APPR training documents per E2CC BOCES

The Brookings study also looked at the impact if mostly "high-performing" students opt out.

First of all there is a myth that mostly the top scoring test takers boycott the assessments.  That is far from reality as students from across the academic spectrum have families who boycott the assessments.  Just because a family is involved in their children's education and aware of the harm of high-stakes testing does not mean their children are the honor-roll high scoring students.  In my own experience as a teacher, and as a parent, I have witnessed students of all achievement levels opt out. In fact, in my own classes, students with IEP's have had the highest rate of opt out.  Why?  Those students see the greatest harm from the inappropriate reading levels and cut scores forced on children.

So what if the "high-performers" opt out?  That actually helps the teachers.  High test scores no longer help teachers get a better rating.  A child must show growth from last year's assessment to this year's exam.  High scoring students have limited opportunity to improve their scores so having children that are good test takers actually hurts a teacher.   I know a few teachers who were switched to accelerated or honors classes get lower growth scores because of the "ceiling" that high-scoring students have in improving their test results.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Desperate times... call for misinformation on #optout. #RefuseTheTests

New York State is on the eve of the largest standardized testing boycott in our nation’s history.  Last year’s protest of over sixty-thousand students will very likely be overshadowed by a significant number in a few days.  Leaders in the New York State Education Department and Board of Regents who subscribe to using a flawed testing program to evaluate our children and their teachers are feeling the pressure as the assessment dates approach.  In an obviously coordinated plan to save their test and punish reform, state officials are using superintendents, school boards, NYS School Boards Association, BOCES officials, and media editorials to try to scare parents from joining the opt out movement.  The talking points, which border on misinformation and even propaganda, used by the various officials and media are virtually identical in their wording.

 Unfortunately many uninformed parents and the general public may take the scare  tactics employed by NYSED as their only source of information. The public should  understand the need for districts to comply with the law, but school administrators can  still fulfill their legal obligations without providing false or misleading information.   

Why do local administrators give out such statements? FEAR.  

Let's look at some of the misinformation that is being spread:

Misinformation #1: The State Assessments help inform instruction for educators.

Misinformation #2: Why would a parent not want to know if their child is on the path towards College & Career Readiness?

Answer to #1:

In order to "inform instruction", educators need actually useful and detailed information, the NYS Assessments do not provide such data.

Answer to #2:

First of all, do we really think a test will determine if an eight year-old is on track for college? Secondly, parents receive virtually no information other than a number on their child's score report.

More detail on misinformation contained in arguments #1 & #2

From New York's Secret Test by Bianca Tanis:
Education leadership would have us believe that parents who choose to refuse the tests are doing their children a disservice; without the tests, they say, how will we know where students stand on the road to career and college readiness?  Left unspoken is the fact that rather than engaging in sound pedagogical practice, and allowing teachers, parents, and students to access the tests and utilize them as a teaching tool, the state has empowered corporate interests to dictate policy, and sadly, they have put our children’s interests last. Teachers are prohibited from discussing the exams with parents, even in vague terms.
From my opinion piece in the Buffalo News:
Families receive a score report months after the testing that contains little information to determine their child’s specific strengths or weaknesses. More shocking is that educators receive only a vague set of data from the state assessment results. Teachers and families cannot see the entire test or the students’ actual answers to assist them in helping children. Educators are not allowed to discuss the actual test questions or they could be fired. How does this secretive assessment system help our children’s education? It does not.

Misinformation #3: Parent or students cannot opt out or “refuse the tests”. 

Answer to #3: Parents cannot use the generic term “opt out”, but students (via their parents) can “refuse” the test using language from NYSED manuals:

Refusal: Students who refuse to take the entire test must be reported at the local level with a final score of "999" and a standard achieved code of 96, indicating refusal. These records do not move to Level 2 of the Student Information Repository System. These students will be considered to have "no valid test score" and will be counted as not tested.

 Students with a final score of “999” will be counted as not tested in calculating a school’s participation rate. A final score will be “999” only if one of the following occurred:
·            The student was absent for the entire test,
·            The student refused the entire test,
·            The student was absent for any session,
·            The student was present for all sessions but did not respond to                                                  even on question on the test            

Misinformation #4:  Schools can be punished for participation below 95%

Answer to #4: 

Failure to make AYP?  NO.  NYS is under a NCLB waiver- no new schools will be labeled failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).  

Funding Lost? NO.
No school in New York State has lost funding because of refusals. NYSED officials have even stated schools will not lose funding:
According to the New York State Education Department (NYSED), under the ESEA waiver there is NO direct negative financial impact on a school district that does not meet the 95% participation rate if it is in good standing. In the worst-case scenario, a school in good standing that fails to meet the 95% rate for three consecutive years may be labeled a Local Assistance Plan (LAP) School. While the school will then be required to craft a plan detailing how it will seek to increase test participation, there is absolutely no impact on state aid or Title I monies, and the school district would continue to remain in good standing. These facts have been confirmed by Joseph Shibu of the NYSED Office of Accountability, and were recently reconfirmed in a March 24th, 2015 interview with Senior Deputy Education Commissioner Ken Wagner. You can read that interview here.

  From FairTest's Monty Neil:  Will schools lose funding? NO.

  From NYSAPE on funding.

  From NYSAPE on LAP Schools labels.

Misinformation #5: Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch in speaking to the NYS Council of School Superintendents recently said:
“I believe that test refusal is a terrible mistake because it eliminates important information about how our kids are doing. Why on earth would you not want to know whether your child is on track for success in the fifth grade or success in college? Why would you not want to know how your child and your school are doing compared to other children in the district, region, and State? Why would you not want to know the progress of our multi-billion dollar investment in education? Why would you not want to know whether all students are making progress, not just the lucky few? I do not pretend that test results are the only way we know, but they are an important piece of information. They are the only common measure of progress we have. We are not going to force kids to take tests. That’s not the New York way. But, we are going to continue to help students and parents understand that it is a terrible mistake to refuse the right to know. We don’t refuse to go to the doctor for an annual check-up. Most of us don’t refuse to get a vaccination. We should not refuse to take the test.”
Answer to #5: 
Insulting rhetoric from Chancellor Tisch. 
·        Do we really think snapshot in time, the state assessments can help parents determine if a 10-year old is on track for college? 
·        When high-stakes have been attached to the assessments, comparison of test results from district, the most vulnerable students have faced the consequences of narrowed curriculum towards tested subjects.
·        Comparing not getting regular medical care for children to boycotting flawed assessments is insulting to all families.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Our 2015 Refusal Letter

A few notes:

  • This is our fourth year refusing the state assessments.
  • Last year our district allowed children to read in a separate location, so we are thanking school administration for respecting families who are standing up for their children's education. 

March 15, 2015

Dear Administrators & Teachers,

Thank you for all that you do for our school.

We are writing respectfully on behalf of ______________ (Grade __) and _________ (Grade ___) to refuse the New York State Assessments in English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science(4th grader) this spring. As we have expressed numerous times in the last four years, our family is very concerned about the direction of education in our state. The increased importance of mandated standardized testing is having a significant negative educational impact on children and contributes to the financial crisis facing districts across the Empire State. Governor Cuomo’s education agenda and attacks on public schools have only intensified our concerns and advocacy.  We feel a mass boycott of the New York State Assessment system is the primary vehicle to reverse the wrong-headed education policies that are already federal and state law as well as halt the damaging education proposals from Governor Cuomo.  Thank you once again for listening to our concerns.

We have no issue with properly written tests that monitor our children's progress but the current assessment system does not help parents or educators achieve that goal. Despite what state education officials repeat ad nauseam, teachers are provided with very little data from the state assessments to “inform instruction”. Parents receive a vague score report that does not assist families in assessing our children's academic progress. The secretive nature of the state assessments contributes to the need for significant reversal in education policy in our state and nation. It short, the current New York assessment system has no educational value for the students of our state.

In addition, we please request that our children do not take any practice tests that are designed for the sole purpose of preparing students for the state assessments.  Please give our children an alternative activity or assignment during any practice testing, which could include reading, homework completion time, or any academic assistance they may need.

We would like to thank the {school name} administration for once again allowing our children to read in a separate location while other students are testing.   We look forward to a great end of the school year.


Sunday, March 1, 2015


Feel free to print and hand out to friends, at events, and school functions.

Click to enlarge
Download full image here.

Download full PDF with refusal letter here.