Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Good Reads for December

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Some excellent reads 11/23

A teacher loses faith in the Common Core

A former hedge-funder turned teacher realizes numbers do not mean a quality education: http://www.americanradioworks.org/segments/a-teacher-loses-faith-in-the-common-core/

NYSED provides schools with inaccurate data on college preparation. 

"The reality is that most school districts across the state are already doing an effective job of preparing kids for college. To misrepresent the facts in such a clear and purposeful way is irresponsible," he said.
"Not only were the names given, the report included which colleges and universities the students attended, their race, special education status, whether or not they received free or reduced priced lunch, and in many cases, their college major."


Who wrote the Common Core Standards?


A successful history of—and the threat to—Public Education in the United States


Common Core: It Really Is All About the Tests (and Corporate Profits)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Field Tests: Mandated?

The NYS Board of Regents debated this week about making the field tests mandatory in schools across New York State.    In recent years, some districts and individual schools wisely refused to administer these extra tests and sent back the tests.  NYSED, trying to quell the testing revolt in New York is trying to force all districts to give the field tests.

( What are field tests?  Click here, here and here. )

What can you do?  

1.  Contact your local school board to resist and pass a resolution against the field tests.  Encourage your local board to refuse to give the field tests.

2.  Contact your elected state representatives to end the use of field testing in New York State.

3. Email NYSED between December 3 and January 20, 2015 expressing your viewpoint on the field testing.   Here is the background document.

Is this a wise move by the Regents?  I can see this action backfiring and helping those opposed to the increased use of standardized testing in our children's schools.  Other bloggers agree:

Diane Ravitch:

" The Regents and Commissioner John King think they are in public office to compel the public to do what they want. They don’t understand that they are “public servants,” which means obviously they are supposed to serve the public. When thousands of parents rise up as one to say that their children are over tested and their schools have been turned into test-prep centers, the Regents should listen. They haven’t. They have added fuel to parent anger. It is not going away just because the Regents have passed a motion. The children belong to their parents, not to the state. "
Retired Superintendent Howard Maffucci:

New York State Regents... ignorant of "The Rule of Holes"... they are in "Field Test" hole... won't stop digging...

"And, not just for the field tests, but for the yearly accountability assessments tied to theCommon Core. The members of the Board of Regents are misreading parental opinion of high-stakes tests.
Bad move. You are in a testing hole, and you should stop digging! "

 Perdido Street School Blog:

NY Board Of Regents Aid Opt-Out Movement By Moving To Mandate Field Tests

" But if the Regents vote to mandate the field testing for districts, they're going to start a fight with parents and teachers that makes the uproar King got in Poughkeepsie over Common Core look like a little skirmish.
So I say, go on Chancellor Tisch, mandate the field tests, punish districts that do not comply.
In the end you're only aiding the op-out cause by fanning the flames of anger and resentment over testing. "

From Fairport Superintendent Dr. William Cala

New York State School Boards Association

"NYSSBA will call upon members of our State Legislature and the State Education Department to seek legislation and regulatory practices that will take immediate action to eliminate mandated standalone field testing practices in New York State. "

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Dear 3rd Grade Parents

From my friend Jeanette of Long Island Opt Out: An important message to parents whose oldest child is entering third grade and experiencing the state assessment system for the first time.

"I need your help. Parents who now have a third grader are generally new to testing and opting out/refusing. If you are on here, you are already informed. I need you to help me get this message emailed to as many third grade parents as possible!! I too have a third grader. I sent this letter out using emails I had from a class list. My goal is to inform every single parent in his grade, whether they decide to opt out or not. Change the message, make it your own, make it reflect your district. But PLEASE get this out there. We must reach parents who are not already on these Facebook pages. You can also print it out and hand it out at dismissal. Thank you!! "

Dear 3rd Grade Parents,

As you all know, our 3rd grade children have now entered the dreaded testing years. As a result of "No Child Left Behind" and now "Race to the Top", as well as NYS Education Department mandates, all children in grades 3-8 are tested every year with common core assessments created not by our school district or teachers, but by a corporate testing company. These tests cost our district hundreds of thousands of dollars both in the tests themselves and the testing administration costs. The assessments are given this spring over the course of two weeks. Our 8 year olds will be tested for over 7 hours, 14-16 hours if they receive extended time. NYS has plans to move us to online assessments (PARCC) which will take 10-20 hours to administer. We will never see these tests. The teachers cannot discuss what is on these tests, even with their colleagues. (They sign confidentiality agreements). The assessments results do not come back this school year. They generally come back the following fall, eliminating any way for them to be used by the child's teacher. The results are a single score. Not a breakdown of areas of weakness, specific test questions your child had difficulty on, or a plan for improvement. Testimonials from educators after the assessments were administered included criticism of mistakes on test questions, questions that were two or more grade levels above the grade being tested, and even product placement in test questions. Many districts use the results of these flawed and inappropriate assessments to determine the needs of their students, rather than the advice and expertise of their classroom teacher. Students can be placed in AIS (extra help) classes, or taken OUT of these services, all based on assessment results. Districts, administrators, and teachers are evaluated based on your child's score. Districts scores are published, and teachers can lose their jobs with low test scores over consecutive years. This unfair evaluation system causes a culture of test prepping and competition, in early grades that should be about imagination, creativity, and whole child learning. The stress over test performance is felt throughout the entire school, right down to our youngest learners. 

Parents and educators have pushed back against excessive high stakes testing. Educators have been fighting against this growing culture of testing for years, and now parents have joined in the fight. For the past two years parents have been refusing to allow their children to participate in these assessments. Last year 30,000 Long Island parents refused, 60,000 in NYS. 

[Optional] (Insert district specifics here) - example:  
In North Bellmore, over 250 families made the decision to join our resistance to high stakes tests, and over 500 in Bellmore/Merrick. Our district has passed a resolution against high stakes testing and the collection of our children's personal data. Our district took a stand against field testing, refusing to administer them last spring. North Bellmore has also eliminated all local assessments and standardized testing for our k-2 students. I consider myself lucky to be part of a district that puts the welfare of its students first and foremost. My actions and the actions of all the other hundreds of parents who have opted out of these assessments in North Bellmore are not just to protect our children, but to take a stand and show support for the teachers, administrators, and our district. 

I know a number of you have already sent in your refusal letters. If entire classes refuse the assessments this spring, we can essentially take back our classrooms. Teachers can focus on teaching a well rounded curriculum, rather than wasting endless hours preparing our children for these harmful assessments. Our hope is to return common sense testing and curriculum to our classrooms. Before the federal "No Child Left Behind", children in grades 4 and 8 were assessed by educator created tests, for a total of 70 minutes. The tests were not used as weapons against our teachers and districts, and they were used diagnostically. 

My intention is not to force, coerce, or manipulate anyone into anything. My intention is simply to inform parents that they do in fact have a choice. Refusing the test is as simple as turning in a refusal letter to the district expressing that your child will not be participating in this year's assessments. There is no consequence to the child, the teacher, or the district. You child simply receives "no score", and instead of a flawed assessment, the teacher will determine the educational needs of your child. If you would like more information regarding test refusals, common core, and the issues with corporate reform in our public schools, join us on the Facebook page "Long Island Opt Out Info"  [or NYS Refuse the Tests] and www.nysape.org. I am part of a coalition of parents, teachers, and administrators from our district, all across NYS, and across the country, trying to give our children back the love of learning and improve public education for all children.

I have attached a sample refusal letter.

Thank you!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Local Assessment Q & A

To follow up on a previous post, here is great information from Jeanette of Long Island Opt Out.

Local Assessment Q&A
1. What are local assessments?
Local assessments have been around longer than common core. Schools have been using many different forms of assessing students at the local level with the goal of improving instruction and determining just what your child needs/does not need. Some locals are teacher created, and some are standardized computer programs purchased from testing companies. A list of commonly used local assessments can be found here:
2. How have local assessments changed since common core/APPR/testing reforms were implemented in our schools?
What was once used by schools diagnostically to help teachers determine what your child needs, has now been turned into a tool to grade, punish, and reward teachers for their APPR (teacher evaluation) score required by the state. Local assessments, in many cases, are now part of a manipulated game in the perverted "let's punish teachers and close schools" world of regents reforms. Some children begin their school year "failing" up to 6 or 7 assessments given the first week of school.
3. Are local assessments required by the State Education Department?
No. Your district works out an APPR plan with the state, the local teacher union, and the administrators. They are signed off on by all parties. Generally, 40% of a teacher/principal/school rating is based on assessments. State assessments have to account for AT LEAST 20% of that score. Some districts have chosen to eliminate all local assessments from their APPR plan, and use only state test scores for all 40%. Many have eliminated all standardized k-2 testing.
4. Are all local assessments "bad"?
No. Not all local assessments are tied to an APPR plan. Some locals like Fountas and Pinnell for reading levels, IOWA's (IQ), and teacher created final exams, are used strictly for what they are intended for...to help the teacher determine the needs of your child. A great question to ask is "would you be giving my child this assessment if it weren't part of you district APPR plan"? Another hint that it is primarily being used for an APPR score is whether it was administered before APPR was in existence. However, many teachers will tell you "off the record" that the WAY they administer them is different because of being tied to their evaluation. This manipulation game they are forced to play by State Ed. has distorted what may have once been a useful tool.
5. How do local assessment APPR scores work and why do some districts choose to administer local assessments?
As stated above, 40% of a score is based on assessments. AT LEAST 20% has to be from state assessments. The other 20% is up to the district/union to decide. Bottom line is that local assessments give some control over this unfair system back to the district. The downside of refusing local assessments is that these scores do oftentimes help your teacher's, principal's, and school's ratings. This downside must be weighed against your view on evaluating teachers through test scores, and how you feel about the over testing of your child. All locals administered in the fall are done so to ensure a very low score. (Which isn't too hard considering the assessments are made of material not yet learned by the student).
7. Can all/should all local assessments be refused?
Refusing is a personal choice. Decisions should be made only after you understand what your district is administering and why. Some parents refuse all local assessments that are tied to APPR. Some refuse all K-2 testing. Some refuse all standardized computer testing. Again, your child, your choice. Many middle school local assessments given in June are used as final exams for a non-state tested course (SS, science, foreign language, electives etc...). These are part of the final course grade and should NOT be refused. Elementary school local assessments, elective SLO's (gym, art, and music assessments) middle/high school beginning and mid-year assessments used for APPR are generally the local assessments that can be refused.
6. If I choose to "opt out" of local assessments, what do I do?
First, request some information from your school on what locals your district is administering. Ask when they are being administered. Many fall benchmarks/SLO's/locals are administered within the first week of school.
Send a refusal letter to your school. This should be given to the school on the first day, as some may be administered the first day. Sample letters here can be personalized for your school/child:
K-2 and opt out letter (does not include ELA and math assessments)https://www.dropbox.com/s/000tywg43keq7kb/k-2%20master%20opt%20out.pdf?dl=0
3-8 opt out letter (includes math and ELA spring assessments)
9-12 opt out letter
7. Will my district honor my refusal letter for local assessments?
Most will. Some will not. Unlike state assessments, local assessments can be administered on any day and at any time of the district's choosing. If the child is unable to refuse on their own behalf and the school does not honor a parent's right to refuse, it will be very difficult to successfully opt out of local assessments. However, most districts were respectful of this decision last year, and many families refused without incident.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Is an "Opt Out" Letter on Your Back-To-School List?

Is an "Opt Out" Letter on Your Back-To-School List?

With less than a month before a new academic year begins, it is time for parents to start preparing their children for a new classroom, a new teacher, and new learning opportunities. The back-to-school list might differ between grades, but there is one thing that should not be missing: A letter to your district opting your child out of reform-driven tests, (or at the very least a letter inquiring as to the tests your child will be facing).

Refusing to participate in state- or district-mandated testing has become a phenomenon across the United States, as more and more parents understand the harmful effects of education reform, Race to the Top mandates, and the new Common Core curriculum. This is an interrelated corporate takeover of public education that relies heavily on data and accountability. It aims to accomplish this with the use of standardized, often high-stakes, tests. Last year, record numbers of students in New York State, with the guidance of their parents, refused to participate in the grades 3-8 state tests, with opt out numbers topping 40,000. But the testing does not stop here.

Your child will most likely be tested the first week of school. These "pre-tests" are part of a system of accountability and so-called "progress-monitoring" where children are tested on materials they have yet to learn, so that they can be retested later on in the year to see how much academic growth they exhibit. Children may face “benchmark” testing throughout the year, particularly if they tested poorly on a previous assessment, or if they are special education students or students with learning disabilities. These assessments affect every grade level from prekindergarten children, who are as young as four years old, through twelfth grade. Last year, children came home after just one week in a new classroom feeling like failures because they didn't do well on the pre-test. One mother reported that her kindergartner came home crying and said, "I guess I'm just not a good reader, Mama.” 

Many parents are not aware of the intricacies of this testing culture, and by the time they realize the pointless nature of these tests, their children have already taken several. Assessments tied to teacher evaluations are being given in all subject areas including English Language Arts and math, as well as in subjects such as art, music, and physical education. NOW is the time to opt out, before your child even takes that first pre-test!

Unlike the state tests, which are given at the same time each year, to all students in grades three through eight across New York State, other tests might vary from district to district, depending on the details of a district's APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) plan and the particular state-mandated and state-approved third-party assessment tool they've chosen to purchase. Many of these tests are computer-adaptive tests under names like AIMSweb, STAR, DIBELS, or Terra Nova.

As a parent, you have the right to know what tests your child will be facing and what those tests are used for. Many have nothing to do with a child's grade, and do nothing to inform instruction. Many of these tests are corporate products that cost districts money, and drive instruction in a one-size-fits-all data-centric manner that reduce children to numbers, and unfairly judge teachers. With the use of computer-based testing on the increase, the cost associated with updating and maintaining computer labs alone can be staggering for many districts. 

There are many questions you can ask your district such as:

  • What assessments are being used, and for what purpose?
  • Are these assessments listed as part of the district APPR plan? (You can find your district's approved APPR plan here: http://usny.nysed.gov/rttt/teachers-leaders/plans/home.html.)
  • If there were no APPR, would you give this test?
  • How often are the assessments administered and what are the scheduled dates for administration?
  • What is the cost to the district of these assessments? 
  • Does the district have a protocol for refusal of local assessments?
  • Are there any plans in place for eliminating k-2 local assessments?  Eliminating k-8 local assessments.

Be aware that some districts will require that parents FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) much of this information. Because the information has to be collected via various sources and analyzed, some districts will prompt parents to FOIL it to justify the man hours and, of course, will charge for copying fees for the records. This information is important, however, and parents have a right to know and need this information to make informed decisions about test refusal. Details on FOIL can be found here: http://www.dos.ny.gov/coog/freedomfaq.html.

Parents can also approach their Board of Education to express their concerns and to request that the BOE retrieve this information from the superintendent and building principals to be shared with the public. In this manner, one can avoid a FOIL. Board members should be made aware how important this information is and that it should be shared with stakeholder parents, whose decision-making regarding testing will benefit from all available information. These issues concern budget, curriculum, and instruction and assessment, and are clearly under the purview of a Board of Education. Parents can encourage their BOEs to become actively engaged in this discussion and actively involved wherever appropriate.

Other questions you can ask your child's teacher (although many may not be completely truthful due to fear of potential ramifications for speaking out):
Do these assessments give you useful feedback to inform instruction for my child?
Are the assessments teacher-created?
Are there alternate methods you can use to evaluate my child?
If it were up to you, how would you choose to monitor the academic progress of your students?
If there were no APPR, would you give this test?

More good questions for schools, superintendents, principals, school board attorneys, and BOE members can be found here: https://optoutorlando.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/questions-every-public-school-parent-should-be-asking-now/.

The decision to opt out of local assessments can be confusing, and should not be entertained lightly. There are many factors to consider. Some assessments are integral to the course, and end of year assessments might be considered as part of your child's grade for that course, especially at the upper grade levels. Many of these are teacher created, and not inherently bad (although they might still be used as part of your district's APPR to evaluate your child's teacher). Some assessments might be state-mandated progress-monitoring assessments, but not be used for APPR. Parents of young children must ask themselves how comfortable they are with their children being formally tested in the lower grade levels, where these assessments are not used for grades or promotion.

To be clear, much of the insidious nature of this testing culture is found in the elementary grades. Much of the time, in middle school and high school, the tests chosen to fulfill APPR are chosen appropriately and do indeed benefit students and their teachers. We encourage parents to become informed and ask questions. Listen to what your district administrators have to say. Administrators who are open and honest will tell you why they think a particular test is beneficial. Don’t be afraid to ask how it benefits students or how it informs instruction. Be wary of any rhetoric that cannot be backed up in plain language and confirmed by both administration and your child’s teacher.
Teachers assess their students all the time, for the benefit of the student and to inform instruction. Some tests are useful tools that help a teacher gauge the progress of both individual students and the class as a whole. Some tests are useful diagnostic tools that help to determine if your child has a learning disability or if they require extra help. Some tests are mandated for graduation, such as the Regents exams. And some tests are simply end-of-course exams that are part of your child’s grade. You should not opt out of these.

What is becoming more and more pervasive is the use of standardized forms of assessment, including the various computer-adaptive assessment tools that are not teacher-created, and provide a narrow form of assessment based on data, not your individual child's strengths and weaknesses. Parents must be aware that the new ban on "standardized tests" in grades k-2 involves a very narrow definition of the word "standardized" and does nothing to alleviate the testing being carried out through computer administered assessments. There have been many cases where students who test poorly are automatically put in AIS (Academic Intervention Services), even if they don’t need it. Conversely, students who need the extra help might not get it if they happen to test well. Teachers are the best-equipped and most knowledgeable persons able to assess students. When a system of high-stakes testing and accountability removes teacher autonomy and decision making from the process, we must be hesitant to blindly accept the overuse and so-called merit of standardized assessments in our children’s classrooms. 

Parents have been opting out of local assessments for several years, but there is no "how to" guide and the variables are too great to discuss any one approach to this decision. Many parents decide that they cannot support APPR, and refuse to participate in local assessments that are not part of an end-of-course grade. Some parents disapprove of their children being subjected to computer-adaptive corporate tests in the early elementary grades, and may opt out even though the tests have nothing to do with APPR. Parents share many of the same concerns when it comes to the proliferation of various forms of assessment that are not solely used by the classroom teacher to provide individualized instruction to their children. Their concerns include the collection of data, the age inappropriateness, the heavy-handed interference by the state, and the unreliability of standardized tests. Many parents wonder if there is anything these assessments can tell their children's teachers that the teachers don't already know. They also worry about the reliance on data and how that might interfere with any individualized instruction their child might need.

The best course of action that any parent can take is to ask questions, and insist on answers. Becoming informed is your best weapon when it comes to making decisions about testing and opting out. Above all else, parents must fulfill their role as their child's greatest advocate. If something seems wrong, it most likely is. Armed with information, you will be able to make an informed decision that is in your child's best interests, regardless of the opinion of others or the rhetoric regarding the "usefulness" of all this testing.

Parents who question testing, both state and local, are not against authentic forms of assessment that truly benefit both student and teacher. Be polite and respectful when engaging in dialogue with schools and teachers, but be resolute in your insistence on real answers to your questions. And, if you still feel that the tests your child will face are not in their best interests, you have the right to discuss an alternative. 

Jeanette Brunelle Deutermann, Opt Out Long Island
Chris Cerrone, NYStopTesting.com