Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Other ways of assessing our children.

Those who advocate "opting out" are not just part of a movement that says "no".  There are many ways to access our children's academic growth.  

This blog contains many links about alternatives to high-stakes testing:

An interesting read: Finland's schools, considered the top system in the world gives 7&8 year olds free play for half their day at school while our  primary & preK kids get rigor:


Opt Out Talking Points & Myths.

Families need to be aware of administrative talking points used to persuade parents and children from boycotting the state assessments.  Here a few comments and statements I have heard recently:

1. The 95% Participation Issue: Schools are concerned if they do not get 95% of their students to take the state assessments they will lose Title I funding.  The New York State Allies for Public Education group has done much research on this topic.

2. Students can not "opt out". True, but families can "refuse" the testing.  NYSED documents allow the refusal via a 999 testing code I cover this topic here.

3. Zero: Your child will receive a zero or one if they 'refuse" and will be forced to take an AIS course.  Not true, I review this topic here.

4. Regents Exams: Some administrators have stated: "By not taking a grade 3-8 state assessment, your child will not have the experience needed to excel on the High School Regents exams."  Your child will be plenty of practice, content knowledge, and preparation for the Regents Examinations.   The questions and content of high school Regents Exams will mirror the course work, including class and homework activities, and regular unit tests.  Students do not need the 3-8 Assessments to prepare for the high school level exams.

5. Accelerated/Honors Courses: Some districts have made statements that state assessment results are considered for enrollment in advanced courses.  Each school has its own policy to determine if students will be eligible for honors classes.  Work with your school to craft policies that use actual class performance and teacher recommendations to make decisions on students being selected for advanced coursework.

6. Assessing Student Progress: Parents receive a vague score report that does little to help families determine their child's strengths and weaknesses.  NYSED leaders and some local school officials state that educators can use the test results to help assess their students' progress towards "college and career readiness".  Educators do not get to see the actual test answers from their students.  Teachers cannot score their own students tests and are not allowed to discuss the test questions as well.  Teachers need to see how their students actually answered a question, not just the percentage of students who answered a question correctly.  Surprisingly teachers get very little information about the state assessment results.  The test results do not help educators improve instruction or help individual students.

7.  Academic Intervention Services(AIS): See slide 11 of this opt out guide:

8. Refusal students must "Sit and Stare":  Some local schools are telling parents that if their children boycott the state assessments they must sit quietly during the test administration and blame NYSED policy.  Actually NYSED gives local schools the right to decide how to handle when students complete their test and also for "refusals". NYSED test administration manuals give schools the option to allow students to read.  More advice here.  You can also work with other parents to boycott the assessments.

 9. Advocate for this policy at your school:

10.  Great School District Policy: From Smithtown on Long Island

click to enlarge

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Help change the direction of NYS Education Policy

The NYS Board of Regents helps set much of the education policy in our state.  The majority of the Regents support the current reform agenda that includes high-stakes assessments and the inBloom student data sharing.  We can influence change by encouraging the NYS Assembly to choose new Regents who will be the voice of parents.

Join NYSAPE's campaign to give the NYS Regents new leadership. 

A cool new "refuse" site

Taking on the format of NYSED's propaganda website EngageNY, a creative parent has put together:

Give the site a visit!

A great flyer from RefuseNY website.
(download here)


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Absolute best Opt Out piece I have read.

A must read:

These two paragraphs stand out as to why most opt out parents are fighting against the testing machine: Everyone's children.

"Parents who complain about testing—particularly affluent, educated ones—are easily derided, as they were by Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Education Secretary, a few months ago, when he described critics of the Common Core as “white suburban moms who—all of a sudden—[find] their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” But parents who challenge the status quo on testing are not motivated by a deluded pride in their children’s unrecognized accomplishments, or by a fear that their property values will diminish if their schools’ scores’ drop. They are, in many cases, driven by a conviction that a child’s performance on a standardized test is an inadequate, unreliable measure of that child’s knowledge, intelligence, aptitude, diligence, and character—and a still more unreliable measure of his teachers’ effort, skill, perseverance, competence, and kindness. 

They are also motivated by the belief that those parents who are least equipped to speak out are the mothers and fathers of the children who are most vulnerable—the most likely to have their educations diminished by months of repetitive test prep, most likely to find themselves reduced to the statistical data at the wrong end of the bell curve. Parents in this year’s opt-out movement are standing up for something larger than their own child’s test-day happiness: the conviction that all children have better things to do with their days than fill in bubbles on a multiple-choice sheet, and that all children have better things to do with their heads than bang them against a table in despair."

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Great history of high-stakes testing & the Common Core

A great history of high-stakes testing & the Common Core by Diane Ravitch.  One of the best reads I have seen on the subject.

Join the statewide opt out movement!

Great opt out advice

Here are some excellent quotes from Jeanette of Long Island Opt Out:

Sit & Stare if refusing the state assessments?
"It's official: NYSED NEVER issued a "sit and stare" mandate, rule, regulation, or policy. According to Deborah Brooks, our group's "pro bono lawyer" who works tirelessly for us, she spoke directly, and at length, with a reliable person at NYSED, there is no statute, regulation, or policy -- written or otherwise -- mandating "sit and stare." Rather, NYSED decided to give every school district discretion regarding how to handle the refusal children. All matters regarding the refusal are left entirely to the discretion of each respective individual school district. It is up to each district to decide whether -- or not -- to place a test in front of each student; it is up to the district to decide whether -- or not -- to allow the refusal child to read or do a quiet activity; it is up each district to decide whether -- or not -- to have the refusal child sit in the library (or some other place) so as avoid possible distraction to other children; it is up to each district to decide whether -- or not -- to force a child to verbally refuse the test, etc. Districts are under no obligation to provide an alternate activity for a refusal child."

Our decision, not NYSED's
"REMEMBER: you are not asking for permission for your child to opt out or "refuse". You are INFORMING the district that your child will NOT be taking the NYS Assessments!!!!!! When a district states "no you cannot", your response should be "I'm sorry, I think you misunderstood me. As "Johnny's" parent, I was INFORMING you of our final decision on this matter." "

Partner with your school to work out the best plan for families who refuse.
If you have made the decision to refuse the NYS assessments for your child(ren), and you haven't already, lets get those letters in.... I have heard from many administrators that the sooner we get those letters in, the sooner they can make appropriate arrangements for refusal students. Lets help out our schools on this and give them ample notice. A smooth testing day (or non-testing day!) will help schools, teachers, and most importantly our children.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A great opt out / refusal letter

Thank you LG

{Superintendent, Principal, Teacher(s) };

We can't thank you enough for all that you do for our children. { } years later, we are still delighted with our original decision to send {Thing 1} and {Thing 2} to {School}. The education they have received has been, by and large, thoughtful, intentional, and commensurate with their abilities. Thank you for this!

We are writing on behalf of {the girls} to refuse the state standardized test, any and all field tests, and state-issued teacher evaluation pre-tests. While we have no issue with properly written tests that assess their knowledge, we no longer feel that they should sit exams which are selected outside the classroom or related to their teachers' continuing employment. We believe that such tests create stress levels inappropriate for children of any age.

Regarding the state test, we respectfully direct your attention to the NYS Student Information Repository System (SIRS) Manual[1], which directs that our children be scored as a "refusal," with a final score of "999" and a standard achieved code of "96," on ELA, Math, and (if appropriate) Science. Please note that a "refusal" is not the same as "absent" as they are defined differently and scored with different standard achieved codes[1]. Also note that "The makeup dates are to be used for administering makeup tests to students who were 'ABSENT' during the designated administration dates."[2] Children scored as "refusal" rather than "absent" should continue their education in the regular classroom environment during the administration of makeup test periods. We are reserving the option of removing our children from school during the test administration session depending on the emotional state of our children on the day of refusal.

Regarding state tests, field tests, and teacher evaluation pre-tests, we would ask that, if possible, the school please provide an alternative activity for our children, as well as others who are refusing the tests, during administrative sessions of testing. We are willing to partner with the school to find appropriate activities that will not exert undue stress on the teacher and/or classroom. We understand that an alternate activity is not required on the part of the school. If you are unable to accommodate an alternate activity for our children we would ask that you please utilize the provision of the Educator Guide which explains "... that student may be permitted to read silently."[3]

Please understand that this refusal is in no way a reflection on the school district, administration, staff, or teachers. Our purpose in sending this letter is to provide a written record of our family’s refusal request, should it be needed. Thank you again for all you do!


{Dad} {Mom}

[1] NYS Student Information Repository System (SIRS) Manual, page 63.
[2] 2013 Edition School Administrator's Manual, page 25.
[3] NYS Educator Guide to the 2014 Common Core English Language Arts Test (page 9) (ELA) and Mathematics(page7)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

More opt out suggestions & responses.

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. 

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 go to another room or LMC to read.
    • Students to stay home during the exam time and return to school after the test without having to make up the exam.
    • 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 grade 3-8 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)

Opt Out & Refusal Resources

Updated September 2015 For the latest resources visit

Opt Out - generic term for boycotting state assessments throughout the United States.

Refusal - specific term using NYS Education Department language for boycotting state assessments.

Updated "999" refusal code information

Guide to Refusal Policies from Long Island Opt Out

A great guide to refuse testing and respond to district handling of refusals, including suggestions and example letters. (pdf download)

My family's 2015-16 opt out letter
  (note: I refute the NYSED talking points of 'informing instruction' & assessing our children's progress)

A really nice letter!

New York City parents:
"For information about opting out in NYC, see the Change the Stakes website

Reading after test completion (or refusal!)

According to the 2014 Educator Test Guides your child can read when completing (or refusing!!) the test.  This is a local school decision, so check with your school.

When Students Have Completed Their Tests
Students who finish their assessment before the allotted time expires should be encouraged to go
back and check their work. Once the student checks his or her work, or chooses not to,
examination materials should be collected by the proctor. After a student’s assessment materials
are collected, that student may be permitted to read silently.* This privilege is granted at the
discretion of each school. No talking is permitted and no other schoolwork is permitted.
(Located on page 9 in the ELA guide and page 7 in the Math guide.)

The 95% participation question.  Will "refusals" hurt our school?

Some suggestions and ideas
Schools have different refusal procedures- work with your school.
Suggestions for how your child can "refuse".

More FAQ from NYSAPE:

Excellent school district policies to share: