Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Desperate times... call for misinformation on #optout. #RefuseTheTests

New York State is on the eve of the largest standardized testing boycott in our nation’s history.  Last year’s protest of over sixty-thousand students will very likely be overshadowed by a significant number in a few days.  Leaders in the New York State Education Department and Board of Regents who subscribe to using a flawed testing program to evaluate our children and their teachers are feeling the pressure as the assessment dates approach.  In an obviously coordinated plan to save their test and punish reform, state officials are using superintendents, school boards, NYS School Boards Association, BOCES officials, and media editorials to try to scare parents from joining the opt out movement.  The talking points, which border on misinformation and even propaganda, used by the various officials and media are virtually identical in their wording.

 Unfortunately many uninformed parents and the general public may take the scare  tactics employed by NYSED as their only source of information. The public should  understand the need for districts to comply with the law, but school administrators can  still fulfill their legal obligations without providing false or misleading information.   

Why do local administrators give out such statements? FEAR.  

Let's look at some of the misinformation that is being spread:

Misinformation #1: The State Assessments help inform instruction for educators.

Misinformation #2: Why would a parent not want to know if their child is on the path towards College & Career Readiness?

Answer to #1:

In order to "inform instruction", educators need actually useful and detailed information, the NYS Assessments do not provide such data.

Answer to #2:

First of all, do we really think a test will determine if an eight year-old is on track for college? Secondly, parents receive virtually no information other than a number on their child's score report.

More detail on misinformation contained in arguments #1 & #2

From New York's Secret Test by Bianca Tanis:
Education leadership would have us believe that parents who choose to refuse the tests are doing their children a disservice; without the tests, they say, how will we know where students stand on the road to career and college readiness?  Left unspoken is the fact that rather than engaging in sound pedagogical practice, and allowing teachers, parents, and students to access the tests and utilize them as a teaching tool, the state has empowered corporate interests to dictate policy, and sadly, they have put our children’s interests last. Teachers are prohibited from discussing the exams with parents, even in vague terms.
From my opinion piece in the Buffalo News:
Families receive a score report months after the testing that contains little information to determine their child’s specific strengths or weaknesses. More shocking is that educators receive only a vague set of data from the state assessment results. Teachers and families cannot see the entire test or the students’ actual answers to assist them in helping children. Educators are not allowed to discuss the actual test questions or they could be fired. How does this secretive assessment system help our children’s education? It does not.

Misinformation #3: Parent or students cannot opt out or “refuse the tests”. 

Answer to #3: Parents cannot use the generic term “opt out”, but students (via their parents) can “refuse” the test using language from NYSED manuals:

Refusal: Students who refuse to take the entire test must be reported at the local level with a final score of "999" and a standard achieved code of 96, indicating refusal. These records do not move to Level 2 of the Student Information Repository System. These students will be considered to have "no valid test score" and will be counted as not tested.

 Students with a final score of “999” will be counted as not tested in calculating a school’s participation rate. A final score will be “999” only if one of the following occurred:
·            The student was absent for the entire test,
·            The student refused the entire test,
·            The student was absent for any session,
·            The student was present for all sessions but did not respond to                                                  even on question on the test            

Misinformation #4:  Schools can be punished for participation below 95%

Answer to #4: 

Failure to make AYP?  NO.  NYS is under a NCLB waiver- no new schools will be labeled failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).  

Funding Lost? NO.
No school in New York State has lost funding because of refusals. NYSED officials have even stated schools will not lose funding:
According to the New York State Education Department (NYSED), under the ESEA waiver there is NO direct negative financial impact on a school district that does not meet the 95% participation rate if it is in good standing. In the worst-case scenario, a school in good standing that fails to meet the 95% rate for three consecutive years may be labeled a Local Assistance Plan (LAP) School. While the school will then be required to craft a plan detailing how it will seek to increase test participation, there is absolutely no impact on state aid or Title I monies, and the school district would continue to remain in good standing. These facts have been confirmed by Joseph Shibu of the NYSED Office of Accountability, and were recently reconfirmed in a March 24th, 2015 interview with Senior Deputy Education Commissioner Ken Wagner. You can read that interview here.

  From FairTest's Monty Neil:  Will schools lose funding? NO.

  From NYSAPE on funding.

  From NYSAPE on LAP Schools labels.

Misinformation #5: Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch in speaking to the NYS Council of School Superintendents recently said:
“I believe that test refusal is a terrible mistake because it eliminates important information about how our kids are doing. Why on earth would you not want to know whether your child is on track for success in the fifth grade or success in college? Why would you not want to know how your child and your school are doing compared to other children in the district, region, and State? Why would you not want to know the progress of our multi-billion dollar investment in education? Why would you not want to know whether all students are making progress, not just the lucky few? I do not pretend that test results are the only way we know, but they are an important piece of information. They are the only common measure of progress we have. We are not going to force kids to take tests. That’s not the New York way. But, we are going to continue to help students and parents understand that it is a terrible mistake to refuse the right to know. We don’t refuse to go to the doctor for an annual check-up. Most of us don’t refuse to get a vaccination. We should not refuse to take the test.”
Answer to #5: 
Insulting rhetoric from Chancellor Tisch. 
·        Do we really think snapshot in time, the state assessments can help parents determine if a 10-year old is on track for college? 
·        When high-stakes have been attached to the assessments, comparison of test results from district, the most vulnerable students have faced the consequences of narrowed curriculum towards tested subjects.
·        Comparing not getting regular medical care for children to boycotting flawed assessments is insulting to all families.