Sunday, September 30, 2012

Do state assessment results help our children? NO.

Even though we opted our oldest out of the third grade state assessments last year, an error occurred and her blank math test answer form was scanned and sent on to NYSED.  As a result, we received a Parent Report from NYSED via our school.  I am glad this occurred because it helped me to see the actual report for the first time. We informed the school and my child's score will not count towards the school's rating. Either way. the actual score, even if my child took the test,  would be meaningless to me, a snapshot in time does not reflect the progress of a student.

We did not receive a report for my daughter's third grade ELA test, since the school pulled her answer sheets and marked the "999" refusal code.  My daughter is currently in fourth grade, does not qualify for academic intervention and has had no academic consequences for boycotting the state assessments. As a result of the refusal code, her school or teacher are not hurt as well.

This report has added more proof that the high-stakes state assessments have absolutely no validity and do not help parents or teachers improve the education of our children.

Lack of Information for parents.
The information provided by this report does not give a parent any specific way to help our children.  Target ranges? Performance level?  What we need is to see the actual test questions and our child's answers.  We get this information when our children's classwork and homework papers are returned by their teachers.  We can look over the results and see what our child's specific strengths and weaknesses are.  The state assessment was graded and bubbled in early May, yet parents do not receive the report until early September? 

When students complete an assessment, especially a project, writing assignment or teacher created test, they want immediate feedback on how they did.  As a teacher, I try to grade and return these assignments as quickly as possible with comments to help my students.  If a paper is not returned in a timely manner, then it loses its relevance to the student.  If the paper only had a grade on it, without comments, then how does the assessment help the child?

Student Apathy
There lies a major problem with the state assessment system.  The child receives the results months later, with only a score.  No feedback.  What did the student do well on?  What questions did she struggle with?  This is why by fifth grade many students become apathetic towards the state assessments.  Fifth graders have had two rounds of state assessment experience and see that the test has no relevance to their education.   Administrators and state officials have always asked why middle school state assessment scores dip compared to elementary scores, and then the scores rise again in high school.  Simple explanation: Middle school students realize the state assessments are meaningless, but in high school the Regents Exams count towards graduation.

Does not improve instruction
Surprisingly teachers are not provided with any quality information as well.  Last year at a grade level meeting we discussed the results of the state ELA assessment.  The type of question, basically the skill being measured, was outlined.  We found out the percentage of our students who were in the various proficiency levels and how those numbers compared to all schools in New York, all local schools, and schools that have a similar socio-economic status.  We do not get to see the questions or answers.  When teachers assess their own students in class we learn from the student responses. Whether the answer comes from a test, homework, classwork or activity we can see how the child approached the question and the answer to determine what our students need to do to improve.  This is how educators improve instruction.  Much is made about data-driven instruction now-a-days, but the old-fashion daily assessing of students through regular classroom instruction provides the proper feedback for an educator to help their students.

Harm to students
An aspect of the harshness of this one-time test score is the penalty that can be placed on a child.  I have received emails recently from parents whose children have been devastated by the state assessment results.  One parent stated her child's middle school would limit her son's participation in band because he had to attend academic intervention because he scored below a three.  Her son excels at music and it is a very important part of his education and life.  Another parent recalled how her daughter missed the proficiency score by two points and feels like a failure.  In New York City, which requires students score at proficiency or above to move on to the next grade level, a large number of students were told that they had to attend summer school before test results were found to be incorrect.

Invalid scoring process
Another issue is the grading of the test itself.  While teachers are given a training lesson and grade example questions using a rubric, we can still be subjective when looking at an answer.  Some teachers have higher expectations, others easier.  I have graded state assessments for years and have seen a single answer get two or three different scores.  Teachers who grade the assessments are also subject to overload.  When I grade my own class papers and assignments, I take breaks, as grading over a hundred essays can turn your mind to mush.  On state assessment scoring days teachers are subjected to an assembly line style of grading and as the day wears on, our mental focus and concentration wanes.  It is certainly possible that your child's state assessment contains scoring errors.  If the exam was graded again would the score change?

Secretive process
If you are concerned or curious about your child's test results, ask your child's school to see the test.  Tell the school you want to see the test booklet and your child's actual answer sheet.  Sadly the whole state assessment process is a mystery to parents.  Why can't we see our child's actual test after it is scored?  Why is the process so secretive? The exams are scored in early May, what does NYSED do with the data for months?

These are some of the major reasons why I oppose the use of high-stakes exams to judge our children and their teachers.  There are too many variables that render the state assessment results invalid and useless.

Anti-testing movement is growing in New York

A great start to my Sunday morning! 

Two important steps in fighting high-stakes testing as a school board and regional PTA have made important statements.

The Niagara Region PTA has issued a resolution against High-stakes testing:

The Rochester City School Board makes it own resolution:

Read the resolution:
Click the 9/27/2012 link, go to page 63 of the .pdf file.

I have also come across two other bloggers nearby who support the opt-out movement:




Another great piece from Long Island principal Carol Burris.

What should you do?  Encourage your local school board and PTA to take a stand for our children's public education.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Let them play!

I have heard several stories emanating from elementary schools in my area and around the nation about the primary grade levels that concern me. Here in New York because of Race to the Top requirements, including teacher evaluation and value-added measures, our children's elementary days are broken into attendance blocks.  These periods must be a specific academic subject.  Free play,  playground time,nap time and recess are not part of the schedule anymore.  For a good read, check out an elementary teacher's take on this attack on childhood here and here. Fortunately my children's' teachers regularly take their classes outside for playground or recess. Does your kid's teacher ? Would a newer teacher or one who is afraid to break the rules not give their students the needed outlet in the day? Would a teacher who is concerned about standardized test scores or student growth numbers, try to squeeze in more academic time?

Free play is a major learning opportunity for younger children that builds creativity, cooperation, and social skills. We are in a rush to push academics earlier and earlier into the lives of children. I became concerned about this a few years back when my oldest was in kindergarten. Rest time was only for the very beginning of the year. I remember having nap time when I had half day kindergarten. I heard kindergarten teachers say their grade level is more like what used to be first grade. Are we helping our children reach greater heights by pushing higher level academics down or will we be doing long-term educational and social harm?

Does your child's school do this?  An important read on how early readers are being harmed by the use of computer literacy programs. Sadly, a teacher's professional judgment and experience are being taken away by computer based programs that this author is discussing.  RTI Assessments such as AIMSweb and DIBELS are another method of removing the human element from the education of our children. Early childhood and primary grades are about so much more than staring at a computer screen to learn. Human interaction, play and discovery are the best ways for children to learn and how to socialize. 

So what is the point of my ranting?  As a society we see more and more of a lack of human interaction.  Think about anytime you are in a public place, are people glued to their various devices? Our eyes seem focused on television, computers, iPods, smart phones, and video games throughout our day. Many children crave the use of technology, but should they spend growing portions of their school day doing the same? Are we creating a generation that lacks basic human interaction skills?


Concerns over the loss of creativity in our children.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hey Dad, we did not have P.E. today.

The other day at dinner my son, who is in second grade, informed us that he did not have “P.E.” today. A typical boy, he was not happy about this cancellation of his favorite time of day.   He told us his class went to the computer lab to take a test on physical education and said that the other “P.E. teacher” ran the class.  My wife and I, both educators, knew what my son had experienced today: a pre-assessment as part of the evaluation of his Phys Ed teacher. Our initial reaction was to laugh sarcastically at the thought of a multiple choice Phys Ed test given on a computer. But this assessment process is not funny. I wrote about this insane method of evaluating teachers here.

We knew this was the SLO pre-assessment because the teachers had to swap classes.  My children’s school district has interpreted the dizzying array of rules coming from Albany as a teacher cannot be in the same room as their students for any assessment used to provide a teacher evaluation score.  A facebook post recently commented that schools across New York State get a different answer depending on which day of the week you call.  Frankly, the incompetence of the state ed folks would be laughable if our children’s education and the careers of dedicated teachers were not in jeopardy.

We opted out our children from all mandated testing this year, including the pre-assessments. The school has honored our opt-out request for the time being.  The school did not inform the special area teachers and we did not think to touch base with the art,music and phys ed teachers, so my son had to take this ridiculous exam.

I decided to get to bottom of this and have requested to see the test my son’s class took to evaluate their teacher.  No word yet, from the school. I spoke at last night’s school board meeting requesting that parents be informed about ALL mandated testing.  The only mandated assessments that we hear about are the spring state exams.  If parents knew how much time was lost to testing in the name of teacher evaluation and student data collection they would be shocked.

Success! (for now)

Here is the response from my children's school district in regard to our opt out request.

As a result, my children have not taken the AIMSweb and pre-assessments in their school. We did neglect to inform the special area teachers in Phys Ed, art and music, so my son took a multiple choice pre-assessment in Phys Ed.-  read about that here.

A principal stands up for his school.

I wish every administrator would stand up for his community, students, parents and staff like this gentleman:

A must read:

A follow up from Dr. Sternburg: (10/1 update)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Saturday, September 22, 2012

How to OPT OUT.

Opting Out 2013

My letter for this school year.  If your child is PreK-2nd grade, just delete the state assessment portion of the letter.  Feel free to modify and use my letter.

 2013 Opt Out/Refusal guide.


Opting out or "refusing" the spring state assessments.

A new opt out letter has been produced after analysis of NYSED assessment regulations.  

 Feel free to use, share and modify. 


After my own experience and discussions with other parents from around New York who opted out last year, here are some suggestions to boycott all mandated high-stakes testing this year:

Contact your child's school as soon as possible to inform the administration that your child will not be taking the state exam or any state/federal mandated test.  Use example letters from here, here and here.

Opt-outers from around New York State have found a variety of different reactions to the exam boycotts:
  •   Some schools have been completely receptive to the opt-out request by allowing:

    • Students who opt-out to go to kindergarten or first grade class and help out! 
    • Students to stay home during the exam time and return to school after the test without having to make up the exam.

    • My children's school is cooperative this year, as my children have been allowed to read a book while their classmates take the RTI assessments.
    • Encourage your school to allow the opt-out based on what other schools did last year.
  • Other schools stated they could not honor the request saying all students must be tested.  If your school reacts in this manner, try to following:
    • Appeal the decision, have a face to face with the administrator or principal.  Most school leaders understand and support ending high-stakes testing when they "take off their administrator's hat". Sadly their hands are somewhat tied because of top-down decision making from state capitals and federal government.
    • If needed Middle school students (and even fourth or fifth grade students who are strong willed),  can sit quietly through the testing time frame and leave the test blank or write “refuse” on it.  This is a great lesson in civil disobedience; again most teachers will be supportive of this stance.
      • Students should not purposely answer questions incorrectly as scores below a 3 may require Academic Intervention Services (AIS).  If a student refuses to take the test, they should not attempt to answer any questions.

    •  Removing your child from school on the exam days is an option for families who are able to do so, but NYSED makes it difficult for families who do not have child care options.  The NYSED exam schedule has three days for each the ELA and math in 2013.  Exams are usually scheduled for part of the school day, either morning or afternoon.  Check your child’s school website to find out this information. The three days following each exam are designated as exam makeup days, so a student who missed any of the exams days is pulled to make up any missed portion.     (NYC parents go here for more info on NYC issues) 

    •  Pull your child out after he or she has been seated with the test.  Wait about 10-20 minutes from the start of the testing.  If your child opens the test booklet and then leaves the school, he cannot complete that portion of the test.   Be sure to tell your child not to answer any questions.  This will result in a "refusal".  This will not hurt your child's academic record, their teacher or school.    This is the method my family used successfully during the ELA and math exams in the spring of 2012 & 2013.  Work with a group of families in your community to help each other with child care if you choose this method.

    •  Families who opt-out together can organize "real learning", anti-test theme days.  Take a group trip to a museum or historical site.  If the weather is nice, go for a hike or to the playground.  How about an art project?  We created an opt-out quilt with copies of practice state tests last spring!
  •  Organize with other parents.  A school district near Seattle had 550 students opt-out when parents were tired of over-testing and spending significant amounts of money on exams while class sizes were exploding and programs were being cut.  This school has faced no consequences for the mass opt-out.
  •  Present to your school board or PTA, or call for a community forum.

  •  A school administrator may try to scare you.  Understand that school leaders are under a great deal of pressure because of high-stakes testing.  For example, an administrator may state that a child who leaves the test blank or opts out would receive a "1" as a score and then that student would have to take an AIS class the following year in the subject of the test.  THIS IS NOT TRUE.  Students who refuse do not count what-so-ever as a score or number.  When a student chooses not to take the test, the scorer will bubble in a "Refuse" code(999) on the test which results in the test not counting towards a student, teacher or school score.  How do I know this?  I am a teacher who has proctored and graded state tests for years and my child opted out of the third-grade ELA and math exams last year. 
    • If a school official makes such bold statements, ask for that information in writing: that way you will know if the statement is true or not! 

    •    In NYS standardized testing does not count towards a students graduation or promotion until high school.  The test scores do not have any effect on your child’s grades or progress.  Some eighth grade students who take advanced Regents level courses in Science or Math should do their best as most of those courses are at a high-school level and the Regents Exams are a graduation requirement.  (please note that NY City students have different rules on promotion and state tests)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Even more testing? A call to action for parents.


      Did you know that in New York our children will face more mandated testing than ever before? And this includes all grades.  We have always been informed about the state testing for grades 3-8 in ELA and math, but have our schools informed parents about the other types of tests that state and federal laws are forcing our children's teachers and schools to administer?

A. Our children will now face pre-assessments related to Student Learning Objectives for teacher evaluations.  Read here for more on the pre-assessments which sent some children home in tears.

B. Throughout the year students will be taking tests because of Response to Intervention regulations.  These RTI tests supposedly are used for progress monitoring of our children's academic skills.  Schools use various RTI assessments under the names of AIMSweb, DIBELS or STAR. Ask any teacher who has used these tests and they will tell you that these exams are a waste of time.  The resulting data does not help improve instruction of our children.  Teachers for generations have assessed our children in many different ways in their classrooms.  Teachers do not need a standardized, corporate produced test to see if our children are progressing or struggling.  Teachers already know how to adjust instruction if students need assistance. 

     These progress monitoring tests are administered in several ways, all of which hurt our children and their classrooms academically:

1. Some schools replace the classroom teacher with a substitute for several days throughout the year, sometimes involving consecutive days, to administer one-on-one RTI testing.

2. Some schools have the teacher conduct one-on-one RTI testing while the rest of the students are given busy work.  The problem is that both the teacher and individual student can be distracted from the testing from the large group of students left alone.

3.  Other schools will bring in a testing team of administrators, specialists or AIS teachers to pull students one by one from a class.  This is disruptive and students loose instruction as students are rotated in and out of the classroom.  
The bottom line is these RTI tests cause more academic harm to our children by the test.

C.  FIELD TESTS will be administered in some schools this October or next Spring.  "Fake tests" are given to our children to create "real tests"; both of which are a waste of time.

D.  After all this mandated testing, the state exams still await our children in the spring.  Grades 3-8 will face six days of ELA and math testing.  4th and 8th graders also have a state science exam to take.

Does this sound unbelievable? This mandated testing is a double whammy.  Not only do our children lose valuable instruction time to this testing madness, but the high cost of these programs hurts our kids as well.  Are your children's class sizes significantly higher than previous years?  Have your schools cut or reduced the arts?  Have high schools reduced elective courses?

Your action is needed:
  • Ask your child's school to inform parents about ALL mandated testing via newsletters, calendars and school websites.
  • Speak to your local PTA or school board about these issues.
  • Organize other parents in your community to discuss testing issues.
  • Call, email or write your elected representatives at the state and federal levels.
  • OPT-OUT your child!  My family did.  Our children did not take the AIMSweb tests this week.  Our school has accommodated our request and our children will not take any mandated state or federal testing this year. You can do it too! Save your child's education from the corporate testing machine that is robbing our children of their education.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Field Tests coming to NY Schools in October

New York Parents- be aware that NYSED and Pearson are forcing our schools to waste more time on testing. In over 500 schools children will be "guinea pigs" on the Field Tests given from October 23-25. If your school is not selected in the fall, then it will be conducting the tests in the spring.  

A "field test" is an exam that Pearson uses to help create the "regular" exams for our children.  So basically our students are being used as "test subjects" to create future tests.  This is another huge waste of valuable education time trying out test questions for the "real" tests, both of which do nothing to improve our children's education.

List of schools NYSED is forcing to give FIELD TESTS:

NYSED memo on the testing:

Parents- Contact your school board, superintendent, principal and teachers.  Ask the school to refuse to give the "fake" tests.  Our children are already inundated with enough mandated testing.  Inform your school that your child will not be taking the field tests.

These tests have no bearing on your child's academic progress and are not used to evaluate our schools or teachers.  Because the field tests have no educational use for our children or schools, this is an easy decision to opt out your child. 

Sadly our children see these tests as a regular part of their school day.  Unlike the state testing in the spring, parents are not informed of this testing that dominates our children's educational experiences.

Here is some more information on New York City parents who said NO to the field tests this past spring. 


A Long Island parent gives a passionate speech to her community's school board against New York's high-stakes tests.  Bravo!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

An excellent opt-out letter.

A member of my community shared this excellent opt-out letter with me today. It was addressed to the school board, superintendent and principal.  I have set it up as a template if you would like to use this letter or adjust it. 

Dear ____________________
    Last school year our family “opted out” or withdrew our children from some of the standardized assessments imposed on children across the state. Our decision to opt out in no way reflected on the teachers, administration, or school board. This was not an easy decision for us, but we feel that we had no other choice. We simply see these tests as harmful, expensive, and a waste of time and valuable resources. 
    This year we will continue our effort to eliminate unnecessary and harmful assessments in our public schools. Our children will not participate in any assessments other than those solely for the use of the individual classroom teacher.
   We refuse to allow any data to be used for purposes other than the individual teacher’s own formative or cumulative assessment. Any assessment whose data is used to determine school ranking, teacher effectiveness, state or federal longitudinal studies or any other purpose other than for the individual classroom teacher’s own use to improve his or her instruction will not be presented to our children. To be clear, our children will not participate in the following:

·      Any state assessment other than Regents exams.
·      Any so-called “benchmark” exams whether they are teacher-designed or not, since these exams are imposed by entities other than the individual teacher.
·      Any surveys, or “field tests” given by corporate or government entities or testing companies.
·      Any “standardized” test other than Regents exams.
We will be encouraging other parents to stand up against the testing fad and, more importantly, the corporate and government takeover of our schools. We believe in and trust our highly qualified and dedicated teachers and administrators. We believe that our children’s education should be trusted in the hands of those who are most experienced and who personally know the needs and individual requirements of each child. Teachers already know how to determine those needs and requirements without mandated standardized testing. Our schools will not suffer when these tests are finally gone.

They will flourish.

____________________ should have a unified policy in place to address children who will be opting out of assessments.

Thank you.

With deep respect,
*For those of you outside of New York, Regents exams are state exams in various subjects that are required for high school graduation.  Some eighth graders may take Regents Exams if they are in a honors or advanced course.
From a brainstorming session I had with fellow opt-outers: we advise approaching your school as soon as possible.  
No longer is the opt-out battle being fought only in the spring.  The progress monitoring tests such as AIMSweb and DIBELSpre-assessments and benchmark exams will be a regular part of our children's education.   For example: Kindergarteners in the district in which I teach will face 11 days of AIMSweb, a pre-assessment, benchmarks and a post-assessment among the required assessments.  Certainly not the way children age five should be educated.
NYSED has just announced that field tests will be given this October to grades 4-8, in addition to the usual waste of our students time when these "fake exams" are given in the spring.
Sadly our children see these tests as a regular part of their school day.  Unlike the state testing in the spring, parents are not informed of this testing that dominates our children's educational experiences.  Parents also need to be aware that many of these tests will be used to create a database containing information about our children.
 The corporate reformers are giving parents more and more reasons to opt-out and save our children's education.  Now is time to act.
(9/8 update) My 2012 version of the opt-out letter:
  I added AIMSweb testing and also requested that our schools inform parents of all testing dates to the example letter.