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:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/srm5380ifn96vc1/guide%20to%20local%20assessments.pdf?dl=0
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)
https://www.dropbox.com/s/gwcfis51213af8f/master%20opt%20out%203-8.pdf?dl=0
9-12 opt out letter
https://www.dropbox.com/s/m7ih9wfddb5lsa6/master%20opt%20out%203-12.pdf?dl=0
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. 

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

Friday, August 8, 2014

A most important question

Parents will be asking soon: Are there other assessments that we should boycott?

Here is the question you should ask the educators at your child's school:

"If there was no APPR, would you give this test?"


If the answer is "no", then boycott.


APPR of course the new teacher evaluation system that involves using test scores to evaluate teachers.  This flawed system is unfair to our teachers, but more importantly increases the amount of mandated testing, most of which does not help our children learn.


Check out the "Refusal Guide" for more information on SLO and other types of testing that is used for the purpose of teacher evaluation.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

How Bill Gates' money influenced passage of the Common Core.

Amazing front page piece from the Washington Post on how David Coleman convinced Bill Gates to spend a small fortune to convince politicians and educational leaders to support the Common Core.

Share this widely!

Key Quotes from this important piece to share:


Money influences.  Embed your people into government positions, and this is reflected in the "Regents Fellows" and the inner circle of Governor Cuomo's education team.
"found a big booster in Obama, whose new administration was populated by former Gates staffers"


Standards do not raise achievement.  Small class sizes, diverse program offerings, and student support systems help students.
Tom Loveless, a former Harvard professor who is an education policy expert at the Brookings Institution, said the Common Core was “built on a shaky theory.” He said he has found no correlation between quality standards and higher student achievement.
“Everyone who developed standards in the past has had a theory that standards will raise achievement, and that’s not happened,” Loveless said.

Common Core is for "other people's children". If the big-time supporters of Common Core do not have their own children attend schools that must implement the Common Core, should we question their motives? This should also include NYSED Commissioner John King, whose two children attend a private Montessori school.
"Bill and Melinda Gates, Obama and Arne Duncan are parents of school-age children, although none of those children attend schools that use the Common Core standards. "

The major players behind Common Core. (notice the lack of educators)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Brave teachers are standing up for their students in Suburban Rochester:
"More than 60 teachers at Cosgrove Middle School in Spencerport signed a petition today calling for action from NYS Commissioner of Education John King, Chancellor Meryl Tisch and Governor Andrew Cuomo. The petition specifically takes aim at this year's ELA and math tests for grades 3-8. It characterizes the tests as "poorly written, developmentally inappropriate, deliberately confusing, and ambiguous."
http://www.rochesterhomepage.net/story/d/story/spencerports-cosgrove-middle-school-teachers-call/17521/SlIu8kH3DE2y9G0u8Qaa9A#.U07lpVezq9Y.twitter


 Support the Spencerport teachers by signing their letter to state officials

http://standwithspencerport.wordpress.com/