Sunday, January 17, 2016

Education reform must move in a different direction

I was provided with the opportunity to provide phone testimony with several other parents and educators to Governor Cuomo's Common Core Task Force.  My presentation was focused on alternatives to the current student and educator assessment system.

Here is why a continued boycott of the state assessment system must occur:
"It was my hope that the Common Core Task Force would listen to the voices of students, parents and educators from across New York State. We have reached a precipice that requires serious change in direction in education policy in our state and nation. An unprecedented event took place last spring when over 220,000 students boycotted the grades three through eight state assessments. Small, cosmetic or superficial changes in our education system will not satisfy the families across the Empire State who have brought their concerns to local and state officials. It is time for change in our schools. We are not asking to reverse course, but head in a different direction that will provide a challenging, appropriate education for all children."

Please read the rest of my op-ed here:

Do Not Be Fooled: Opt Out Continues in 2016

Once again my friend Jeanette Deutermann, the leader of Long Island Opt Out, nails it.  The reality is little has changed despite minor tweaks proposed by the Cuomo Common Core Task Force and enacted by the Board of Regents and NYSED.

Parents should continue to boycott the state assessments until all harmful reforms are removed from our children's public schools.

Here is Jeanette's advice:

For those of you new to this page or the opt out movement, first, welcome!! All of the information on here can seem overwhelming and "too much". There are key facts to stay focused on:

1. Opt out has been the ONLY vehicle that has produced change and continues to be the only factor to continue the changes.

2. We are a long way from winning, but we have swung the door wide open to these changes.

3. Your district will NOT lose money if you have high opt out numbers. Threats have been made and uninformed administrators may even tell you this. These are simply empty threats that we have heard every year for four years with no financial loss to any district ANYWHERE. Not a single dollar.

4. Although state test scores will not be calculated in this year's teacher evaluation scores, THE TESTS ARE STILL THE SAME, WRITTEN BY PEARSON, CLOSE TO 9 HOURS LONG, 18 HOURS FOR SPECIAL ED STUDENTS, 6 DAYS, ALMOST 2 WEEKS OF INSTRUCTION LOST, SCHOOLS STILL BEING GRADED, RANKED, AND SORTED BY STATE ASSESSMENTS. In other words, as far as our children are concerned, nothing has changed. As for the State talking shorter tests, they have shaved a few minutes off the 9 hours.

5. The law to make assessments count as 50% of the evaluation score (which encourages test prep and a test focused curriculum) that our legislators pushed through last year is still in place with Cuomo expressing that he will not allow it to be changed. While this law is in place we will always have test focused classrooms.

6. If parents opt back into the state test this year, the changes will stop, and any progress made will most likely reverse course. 

7. Deals will be made for various organizations to convince parents that everything is fine now. We will see commercials, ads, and other marketing strategies to convince parents to comply.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Alternatives to High Stakes Testing and Evaluations.

The outline below is from my presentation to the Cuomo Common Core Task Force.  Several parent advocates from around NYS were invited to provide information to the task force.  My category of testimony was requested to be on assessment.  Other parents comment on testing and standards. Will the Task Force and Governor Cuomo listen to the concerns that parents from all corners of the Empire State have raised about the flawed education reforms forced upon our schools?  We will see.

My testimony focused on solutions, not just criticisms, as some of the corporate reformers have painted the Opt Out Movement as the party of "no',  In reality we have solutions that can actually provide a well-rounded educational opportunity for all children.

(*Please note that my testimony was given several weeks before the Federal ESEA bills have been close to final approval in Congress. )

Advisory on Assessment to NYS Common Core Task Force

Dear Task Force Members,

I have been involved in education for virtually my entire life, heading off to public school every fall since I was five years old through this August at the age of forty-five.  I can state with full confidence that I have never seen such uproar about the direction of Public Education in New York State than I have witnessed over the last few years.  Educators, parents, and most importantly students, have lost faith in our education system.  I view education from several angles: parent, teacher and school board member. In all three of these important roles, I am very troubled about the direction of state and national education reform.

Do reforms need to occur in education? Yes, but many of the current changes are not research-based and did not include the voices of the true stakeholders: parents and educators.  We can drive positive change if those who hold political power listen to people at the grassroots, local levels of education instead of those in legislative halls or corporate boardrooms.  All parents want their children to receive a challenging, appropriate, and well-rounded education that will enable their children to be flexible and “life ready” after they graduate from high school.   The current education reform movement is preventing public education in New York from achieving those parental goals.

I realize you have heard about many of the problems that have surfaced in New York State, so I will focus primarily on alternatives to the current direction of education reform. 

 (apologies for formatting when pasted from a word document)

I. Alternatives to current NYS Assessment System:

     A. Portfolios to assess student learning, teacher effectiveness, and school quality.

  1. Community input, evaluation, and review of student work to determine if students are getting an education that fits the needs of their community.
  2.  Local district professional and community review of educator portfolios to determine effectiveness and on-going professional growth.
  3. Community stakeholder review of educational goals of local districts using several local measures determined by community wants and needs.

     B. New York Consortium High Schools- show that alternatives to standardized testing exist and can achieve positive outcomes for students. 
 (*possibility under ESSA that NYS could apply for alternatives? )

     C. Portfolios sound costly and time consuming.


  1. This process can be done cheaper than current state assessment and APPR systems.
  2. More reliable and detailed results then current systems that label students, educators and schools with a number.
  3. Provides community voice and input- which are lacking in current systems.
  4. Allows for flexibility to meet diverse needs of districts throughout NYS.

     D. Decouple educator evaluations from testing to fullest extent possible under Federal law. (*this Federal mandate looks to change under the ESSA)

  1. New 3012-d law places test scores on a range of 50-100% for a teacher’s evaluation. 
  2. Places too much emphasis on test scores over creativity and critical thinking.
  3. Value Added Modeling growth scores are not a reliable measure of educator effectiveness and should not be used for employment decisions.
  4. Advocate removal of typing educator evaluation to test scores at all levels of government.

       E. Replace punishment for struggling schools with supports such as community school and whole child models.

       F. Ensure that each local district addresses a well-rounded educational experience with local input.

  1. Many schools under current test/punish model have narrowed elementary level curriculum to tested subjects of ELA/math.
  2. History, science and arts are neglected.
  3. Physical Education, recess and free play have been reduced or eliminated in an era where childhood obesity is a serious public health crisis.

II. Construction & design of any state-wide assessments that would be required by Federal or State law.
         A. Created by current NYS educators.
         B. Questions, answers, passages written at grade-level reading levels.
         C. Time on testing appropriate for age level.
         D. Advocate for grade-span testing or sampling with Federal Gov’t.

  1.  Sampling can be similar to NEAP testing and accomplish goal of assuring that all children have an appropriate educational opportunities.

        E. IEP/504 students receive all modifications and supports.
        F. Diagnostic design that truly assesses student strengths and weaknesses.
        G. Any required assessments are scored by each student’s classroom/subject teacher(s).
        H. Completely transparent as NYS did prior to Pearson contract- entire test released within a few weeks of completion of testing window.

III. Online Assessments – allow local choice for any required testing.
       A. Cost.

  1. Is online testing the primary reason Smart Schools Bond Act was proposed?
  2. Need to purchase and constantly update technology will go far beyond bond act dollars and will stress budgets in an era of education cuts.

         B. “Digital divide” for areas were many families do not have computers or access to high-speed internet.
               1. Will online testing create a further educational gap between haves and have-nots?

         C. Will computer instruction and typing become the next test prep? It is already occurring in many districts.

          D. Many logistical issues for school-wide online testing.

                1. Cannot test all students at same time.
                      a. Computer labs, portable computers, and library media centers will become testing locations instead of learning and research hubs for weeks, denying educational opportunities for classrooms not being tested.

                2. Reliability of technology.
                      a. Computers need constant updates and compatibility checks - expensive and time                                   consuming.

                      b. Reliability of internet connection and speed.

                3. Student learning styles.

                       a. Not all students comfortable using a computer to type or read information.

                       b. Typing and editing via an online test form is challenging for some students.

It is my hope that the Common Core Task Force will listen to the voices of students, parents, and educators from across New York State.  We have reached a precipice that requires serious change in direction in education policy in our state and nation.  An unprecedented event took place last spring when over 220,000 students boycotted the 3-8 NYS State Assessments.  Small, cosmetic, or superficial changes in our education system or policies will not satisfy the families across the Empire State who have brought their concerns to local and state officials.  It is time to change, we are not asking to reverse course, but head in a different direction.  Will you help lead that charge?

Respectfully submitted,
Chris Cerrone

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Won't be fooled again.....more meaningless anti-testing banter. #optout

Yesterday President Obama and outgoing Secretary of Education announced a plan to reduce over-testing of our children. On the surface this was a "whoa" moment as the POTUS and Mr. Duncan's prized Race to the Top initiative doubled down on the Bush administration's NCLB test and punish model of education reform. A closer look shows this statement is another attempt, this time at the highest level, to save the test-based education system that has caused harm to our children and their public schools.

The two percent suggested limit on state testing and encouragement to "discourage and limit the amount of test preparation activities" are vague statements that show little knowledge of the reality in our classrooms.  How many other types of test-based assessments are needed to meet the requirements for teacher evaluation, RTI, and student data?  What about types of test-prep that are less obvious such as history and science topics embedded in short-canned ELA readings that look like real learning but match standardized tests in style and substance?  History and science have often become relegated to second class status in elementary education because of this practice. Veteran Middle School Social Studies and Science teachers have noted in recent years how their students have a "random" knowledge of their subject matter due to the abandonment of history and science curricula at the elementary level in favor of the tested subjects of ELA and math.  So much more time is lost to other types of test prep including classwork and homework that mirror the format of standardized assessments when students could be doing creative and critical thinking tasks that are more meaningful, fun and challenging.

If our elected leaders and education bureaucrats think a few talking points and vague edu-speak banter that will not bring about meaningful change and will get families to find value in the current test-based accountability system of education they need to step out from their ivory towers and actually listen to those on the front lines of our schools.  As someone who has the pulse of the opt out movement from the various discussion groups, I can tell you that parents are not fooled by this nonsense.

We should know better as much of detail from the USDOE statement from yesterday is recycled from education reform groups so there really is nothing new here. But the fact that the testing situation is being discussed at the highest levels of our government is a sign that the parent led rebellion against high-stakes assessments is making waves.

What can parents do to continue to fight for our children's right to a well-rounded education: follow New York's led: OPT OUT.  The corporate reformers, state education bureaucrats and many politicians are running scared.  They have the money but we have the power--in numbers.  Let's make the Spring of 2016 the largest testing rebellion in history.

 Here are a few other looks at the misleading testing statements coming from President Obama and Secretary Duncan:

Teacher Peter Greene does a great job of breaking down the USDOE's statements.

       More from Peter Greene on Arne Duncan's recycled talking points.

Reading between the lines: Obama's "Testing Action Plan"

USDOE: "Sorry/Not Sorry" on testing.

Anthony Cody: President Obama (Again) Blasts All the Tests His Administration Has Sponsored

NY Principal: How much testing is too much?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

High Achievement NY & AstroTurf Groups -- out of touch

I have not had the time, energy, or inspiration to blog much lately due to my hectic schedule balancing family, teaching, and school board duties, along with education advocacy for NYSAPE and locally.  Recent false and misleading editorials and statements regarding the 'opt out/refusal" movement have raised my ire to new levels and hence this post...

This letter to Governor Cuomo from High Achievement New York, a group of mostly business officials which advocates for the Common Core, has many misleading statements about those who are fighting the new standards and the connected state assessment system. 

I will break down some of the ignorant remarks to better clarify what our grassroots movement truly stands for.

Unfortunately, the opponents of higher learning standards respond to each improvement in implementation with one word – ‘No.’ They are not interested in making the standards and assessments better for children and more worthwhile as methods for increasing college and career readiness. No concessions or improvements will meet their expectations. Instead, their interest is in simply doing away with higher learning standards altogether.  

The absolutist statements in the quote above from HANY are very troubling. The leaders of the opt out movement and the many families who have joined the boycotts are much more knowledgeable and informed than this insulting and simplistic statement.  Opt out parents want their children to be challenged, experience critical thinking, and have opportunities for creativity.  Yet, parents see how tying high-stakes for schools and educators to the state assessment system has limited their children's educational growth.  Many elementary schools have narrowed their primary focus to the assessed subjects of ELA and math in order to raise test scores.  History, science, the arts, physical education, recess and free play are being pushed aside.  If we want our children to be "college and career ready"  they should receive a well-rounded education. (as if testing an 8-year old can determine if he or she is on the path towards success in college and who can predict what skills and knowledge would be needed in a decade or more) I want my children to be "life ready"- flexible and adaptable when they graduate and I do not think a test can be constructed to determine those important qualities either.

"Renaming the Standards: Several states have dropped the “Common Core” moniker to put their own stamp on the standards"
So if New York were to rename the Common Core the "Empire State Standards" parents would be fooled in supporting this education experiment?  Hardly.  Regardless of name, families would see  developmentally inappropriate standards in early childhood promoted by the Common Core.  (Of course  no early childhood experts were part of  CCSS  creation).  Many early childhood experts question if pushing too much too soon will actually have a detrimental impact on our children.  Students would still be bored with the tedious nature of close reading non-fiction novels as treasured classic literature is left on the shelf.  Parents employed in STEM fields would continue to ask how questionable mathematics methods would apply to the real world jobs where they find employment.

"Public Comment and Review of Individual Standards ......Third Party Review of Recommendations and Assessments"
Do standards and assessments need to be analyzed thoroughly?  Yes.  But the task-force set up by Governor Cuomo is wholly inadequate to take on this herculean task.  A committee compromised of expert, experienced educators from all levels PK-12, and including Special Education and English-Language Learners, along with parent representation as well, would be the only way to move New York education forward.  We do not need another group of business leaders and those politically connected trying to muddle through education policy. 

"Shortened State Assessment Time"
The letter mentions the PARCC assessments, strange because New York does not look to be using PARCC at anytime in the near future.  Commissioner Elia mentioned the state assessments will shorter, but while the length of the current assessment system is certainly an issue, the flawed construction is more of a problem.  A better question would be: are there alternative methods to assessing our children's educational progress than high-stakes standardized tests? 

As someone connected to the heart and soul of parents across New York, I can firmly state that a few snarky talking points and misleading statements will not change the tide of revolution in the Empire State.   These so-called reformers will not win the hearts and minds of NYS families because they are not connected to our schools.  Are they PK-12 educators?  Do they have children currently in PK-12 impacted by the Common Core?   How can they even conceive what is occurring in our schools and kitchen tables when most of the signatories have no connection to our public schools as a current parent or educator?  These groups, with their funding from the Gates Foundation and other big business interests, will not defeat the grass-roots, parent led revolution against the corporate education reform movement.   

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Amazing! Opt Out percentages from 2015

Only 27 districts (some of which are a single small specialized schools) out of approximately 700 made the Federally mandated 95% participation rate for the 2015 NYS ELA Assessment & Math Assessment.  

(click the links above for a list of each NYS district's refusal percentage)

Amazing efforts which are resulting in State Education officials scrambling to get parents to "Opt-IN" to the assessment program.  Pearson will give its final 3-8 assessments in the spring of 2016 as Questar will be the new vendor(and moving towards computerized testing).  Commissioner Elia has recently stated the tests will be shorter.  Great, but.......

There are so many issues that need to be resolved before parents will "Opt-IN" again:

  • Are tests an accurate measure of student achievement?
  • Tying educator evaluation and school ranking/standing corrupts the testing system and causes test-prep and narrowing of the curriculum.
  • Since the NYS Assessments have been part of Common Core implementation, concerns about the age/grade level inappropriate content and reading levels have been raised.
  • The Common Core is a significant issue as educators had virtually no voice in the development of the standards resulting in serious questions about age/grade level inappropriate standards.
  • The impact of the current test system on special education students and English-Language Learners needs to be addressed.
  • Do we really think testing an 8-year old can determine that child's college-readiness?
Refusals will continue to rise unless NYSED, the Governor and the State Legislature address ALL of the flaws in our testing program.