Thursday, March 30, 2017

Educators: Are You Complicit?

Dear NYS Educators,

Did you attempt to bribe, coerce, or scare your students into "opting in" to this week's NYS ELA Assessment?  

If so, you are complicit in the attacks on your students, profession, and our public schools. Many parents across NYS are disappointed in the educators who offered candy, treats, pizza and even field days or trips, to the students who would be taking the ELA Assessment.  Others made false claims to scare children that your school would lose funding or students would not be prepared for the high school Regents Exams or SAT. 

Are you complicit in harming the education of your students?
As a fellow educator, I find it difficult to understand how those in my profession cannot see how the current NYS Assessment system is a flawed measure of student achievement and hurts our children.

  • Have you read the questions and passages, that are often confusing and many times have arguably more than one correct answer?
  • How about most of the assessments containing reading passages that are often 2 grade reading levels above your students' grade?
  • Do we really need 3 days of testing for 90 minutes for each subject? (or far beyond as a result of "untimed" testing)
  • Do you see students break down in tears or banging their heads on their desk as they encounter age-inappropriate tasks on the state assessments?
  • The vague assessment results come months later and do not provide detailed information to educators about your students. ( In the case of teachers, often your former students)
  • Are you aware that NYSED sets cut and proficiency at inappropriate levels that set up our students for failure?
  • Do you want your students' education to be limited to ELA and math skills?  Many elementary school classrooms focus primarily on the "tested" subjects of ELA and math, ignoring or reducing instruction in history, science, and the arts.  (Not necessarily blaming elementary teachers as many school leaders set classroom schedules that over-emphasize ELA and math)  
  • Does preparing for a test limit the opportunities for your students to take on critical thinking and creative tasks?
  • Are student behavior or attention-spans an issue because children are not given enough recess or free-play time?

Are you complicit in the attacks on your profession?
Do you fail to understand that the NYS Assessment system continues to be tied to your evaluation despite the brief moratorium?  

  • The 3012-d law still exists. The same system designed to falsely fail two-thirds of New York's students is being used to blame you for manufactured crisis of low test scores? 

  • Could you be fired, denied tenure, or placed on an "improvement plan" as a result of poor student performance on flawed assessments?

  • Do you realize that parents who have their children boycott the state assessments are not only protecting their kids but also educators?  A friend and fellow advocate I know famously has proclaimed at several forums and rallies that "she will not allow her children to be used as a weapon against their teachers". 

Are you complicit in the attacks on our public schools?
 Cuomo, Trump, DeVos, and other public figures like to falsely label our public schools as "failures".  How do they try to justify this propaganda--- THE TEST?  Low test scores, failing schools and inept teachers.  

The test is the weapon.  If you support the current assessment system, you support attacks on students, educators and schools.  If our public schools are to survive, we need all hands on deck to defend our local educational institutions.  It is time to shed the fear, ignorance or compliance that drive your complicity to the almighty flawed assessments.  

Sunday, October 30, 2016

What are we doing to our youngest students?

I received permission from Robyn, a dedicated educator and parent, to use this heart-felt social media post she made about her daughter's experience in the Common Core Era of academic rigor.  One of the major criticisms of the Common Core is the inappropriate nature of the primary grade level standards.

“She doesn’t fit the mold.”

My soon to be six-year-old daughter is a vivacious ball of energy. In my eyes, she is my diva, and I say this with every ounce of love and adoration possible. She loves to color, draw, create, build, explore and wonder. Hiking, swimming and building fairy houses out of sticks and stones make her happy. Her favorite music is currently the “Hamilton’s America” soundtrack. She asks questions about each song, which character is singing and what is going on. She dresses up as one of the many Disney princesses and has tea parties with her little sister. She makes her own Barbie furniture out of empty shoe and tissue boxes and just created a bee killer out of an empty toilet paper roll. She writes and creates her own stories using invented spelling explaining how a mermaid gets her tail or her writing about her recent field trip to the farm with her class. Her sense of style is eclectic; she prefers to wear brightly colored knee high socks over an entirely different color pair of leggings. At night, after her father and I have read to her, she reads to her sister, with a flashlight in her hand and sings songs until they both fall asleep.
As I look at all that she does and the things that make her who she is, I am surrounded by an overwhelming feeling of guilt.

My daughter does not do well in school. Sure, she is kind to her friends, helpful to her teachers and has a generous, loving personality but she struggles in school. In Kindergarten, she could barely contain herself on the rug as she preferred to roll, fidget and bounce. She doesn’t focus during math lessons and her writing is all over the place. Now, another year deeper into Common Core and we are again getting the same reports. She lacks the stamina to focus for her 30 minutes of independent reading, she must sit with an adult during math to keep her focused and regularly falls off her chair. Even with the fabulous teachers she has been blessed with guiding her on her educational journey and despite coming from a middle-class home with two educated parents, a home with well over 200 books, writing, arts and craft supplies, she is reading below grade level.

Am I a horrible parent for starting my daughter too early? She is, after all, a young first grader, turning 6 in less than two weeks. Am I to be shamed for refusing to push practice work and additional reading when she is tired from a day that is goes too long and too late? Should I be sentenced to mommy jail for letting her color rather than write letters?
As a third-grade teacher with seventeen years of experience, in the same district, I refuse to respond with “Yes” for any of those questions that haunt me on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. If my husband and I could afford a private school for our daughter, so that she could thrive and grow without the constraints of the Common Core and its curriculum, we would. But we can’t. Like many families out there, we have put our faith and trust in public education but right now, the common core curriculum is stagnating the creativity, imagination and curiosity of many young children. I see in my third grade class a dozen students that are exactly like my daughter. As a teacher expected to comply to the local and state mandates, I struggle. I continue to find better ways to do things, despite losing precious planning and prep time due to an extended student day. I spend hours awake while my family sleeps redoing horrendous lessons that expect children to sit for absurd amounts of time because I think of my daughter and many other children out there who “don’t fit the mold”. I wonder when the call will come from the school psychologist requesting testing for ADHD/ADD. I think about the number of children I have taught who have had to be medicated because they lack stamina and the ability to meet the demands of the academic rigor they are faced with.
In my eyes, she doesn’t need to fit the mold.

This morning, as my daughter and I danced in our kitchen to Christina Perry’s “Thousand Years”, I held her tight and made her promise to always be true to herself and to not let anyone tell her how she should be. I whispered in her ear, “You are my dreamer, don’t ever stop dreaming.” She replied, “I won’t mommy, I promise.” I pray that she keeps this promise.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Have you watched the Bald Piano Guy videos?

...if not you need to watch and share his brilliance..

Some of my favorites:

Classic Billy Joel parody!

Hamilton the Musical-- opt out version. WOW!

Green Day!!

More Billy Joel.  (2016 testing errors noted!!)

Channel your inner Journey

Messages to former NYSED Commish and Temp Secretary of Ed John King:

Many more  "Bald Piano Guy" videos here:

Monday, August 29, 2016

2016-17 Refusal Letter

My family has been super busy and why reinvent the wheel, so I am blatantly "stealing" the great opt out letter and information from the amazing Jessica of Opt Out CNY.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Opt Out by Vacation #optout2017

New York State Parents,

If your family is fortunate enough to be able to take a vacation next year, consider the time-frame for the New York State Assessments in ELA and Math for grades 3-8.

If parents are looking for a good time to take a family trip, I recommend during the state testing period.  It is a win-win in many ways:

First of all, this is a stretch of time when the least amount of true learning is happening in classrooms across New York.  The inappropriate length of the exams, combined with the set up and collection times, basically ruins half of our children's school days for each of the exam dates.   Basically very little academic progress will be made over the state assessment time period.

The NYS Assessments are split this year with ELA in late March and math in early May. 

While the March testing period is during a popular spring break period for schools and colleges around the nation, the math assessments will be given after the traditional Spring Break holidays.

Amazing vacation deals are available in early May since most schools are back in session for the rest of the school year.  You can save money, have a great vacation without the crowds, and protest by opting out of the harmful state exams at the same time.  A win-win for your family and public education!

Of course the Florida Theme Parks are a popular family trip that would be much cheaper, but how about Washington, D.C. or the National Parks that would be packed during school holidays or summer? D.C. or the National Parks could provide a great REAL learning opportunity as opposed to being locked down in a classroom with a number two pencil.

Start planning now!

(Also consider making medical appointments during testing as well since your child will not miss class time anyway!!)

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Frequent Changes in State Assessments Create More Problems

I have been fortunate to have had numerous phone and email conversations with Fred Smith, a retired testing expert from NYC schools.  Fred certainly helped me learn some of the insider terminology and methodology of test creation and data.  Here Mr. Smith analyzes release of the 2016 Grades 3-8 Assessment and how NYSED is trying to compare this year's results to recent years.  


Trying to make sense of changes in proficiency from one year to the next should involve careful analysis and cautious interpretation.  This is especially true when there are large differences.  But instead of thoughtful examination of the data and reasonable explanation, the State Education Department's announcement of 2016's test scores provides conjecture and contradiction leading to confusion rather than any understanding of the educational meaning of the results.

Here are three points:

1-SED says the 2016 results are not comparable to 2015's. Yet, slides containing bar graphs of student proficiency levels over the last four years accompany SED's press release and clearly invite comparison. SED fails to explicitly note that the lack of comparability was largely due to Education Commissioner Elia's decision to suspend time limits on all parts of the ELA and math exams--each of which was given over a three-day time period. This ill-conceived concession to criticisms of the exams meant that the time students were allowed to complete the tests could vary widely from class to class, school to school and district to district. Thus, standardized testing conditions ceased to exist in 2016. And without standardization, there can be no meaningful comparisons of growth over time or, for that matter, of achievement between classes, schools and districts within the same year. 

2- By extension, how will it be possible to make true comparisons between the 2016 and 2017 outcomes after next year's tests are given--given the lack of uniform test administration procedures? This portends another year that will be wasted on a testing program that will yield little useful information. Since test publisher Pearson conducted its first New York statewide exams in 2012, SED has now been unable to make legitimate comparisons twice times. Look for that to recur in 2017. What have we been paying Pearson for? And why do we remain on this testing treadmill? 

3- The press release leaves us with a slanted picture of the continued success of the opt-out movement. A close reading of the "test refusal" data indicates that the percentage of opt-out students increased by two percent (2%). SED characterizes this as evidence that the percentage has remained "relatively flat." SED apparently wants to create the impression that opt-out has hit its peak, reached a plateau or, perhaps, run its course. At the same time, a leading point in the 
release is that math proficiency has increased by one percent (1%). So, 1% marks a highlighted gain in math, but 2% more test refusals are minimized as representing no change. 

SED and the Education Commissioner continue to deal in distortion and duplicity. 

Fred Smith