Wednesday, September 30, 2015

High Achievement NY & AstroTurf Groups -- out of touch

I have not had the time, energy, or inspiration to blog much lately due to my hectic schedule balancing family, teaching, and school board duties, along with education advocacy for NYSAPE and locally.  Recent false and misleading editorials and statements regarding the 'opt out/refusal" movement have raised my ire to new levels and hence this post...

This letter to Governor Cuomo from High Achievement New York, a group of mostly business officials which advocates for the Common Core, has many misleading statements about those who are fighting the new standards and the connected state assessment system. 

I will break down some of the ignorant remarks to better clarify what our grassroots movement truly stands for.

Unfortunately, the opponents of higher learning standards respond to each improvement in implementation with one word – ‘No.’ They are not interested in making the standards and assessments better for children and more worthwhile as methods for increasing college and career readiness. No concessions or improvements will meet their expectations. Instead, their interest is in simply doing away with higher learning standards altogether.  

The absolutist statements in the quote above from HANY are very troubling. The leaders of the opt out movement and the many families who have joined the boycotts are much more knowledgeable and informed than this insulting and simplistic statement.  Opt out parents want their children to be challenged, experience critical thinking, and have opportunities for creativity.  Yet, parents see how tying high-stakes for schools and educators to the state assessment system has limited their children's educational growth.  Many elementary schools have narrowed their primary focus to the assessed subjects of ELA and math in order to raise test scores.  History, science, the arts, physical education, recess and free play are being pushed aside.  If we want our children to be "college and career ready"  they should receive a well-rounded education. (as if testing an 8-year old can determine if he or she is on the path towards success in college and who can predict what skills and knowledge would be needed in a decade or more) I want my children to be "life ready"- flexible and adaptable when they graduate and I do not think a test can be constructed to determine those important qualities either.

"Renaming the Standards: Several states have dropped the “Common Core” moniker to put their own stamp on the standards"
So if New York were to rename the Common Core the "Empire State Standards" parents would be fooled in supporting this education experiment?  Hardly.  Regardless of name, families would see  developmentally inappropriate standards in early childhood promoted by the Common Core.  (Of course  no early childhood experts were part of  CCSS  creation).  Many early childhood experts question if pushing too much too soon will actually have a detrimental impact on our children.  Students would still be bored with the tedious nature of close reading non-fiction novels as treasured classic literature is left on the shelf.  Parents employed in STEM fields would continue to ask how questionable mathematics methods would apply to the real world jobs where they find employment.

"Public Comment and Review of Individual Standards ......Third Party Review of Recommendations and Assessments"
Do standards and assessments need to be analyzed thoroughly?  Yes.  But the task-force set up by Governor Cuomo is wholly inadequate to take on this herculean task.  A committee compromised of expert, experienced educators from all levels PK-12, and including Special Education and English-Language Learners, along with parent representation as well, would be the only way to move New York education forward.  We do not need another group of business leaders and those politically connected trying to muddle through education policy. 

"Shortened State Assessment Time"
The letter mentions the PARCC assessments, strange because New York does not look to be using PARCC at anytime in the near future.  Commissioner Elia mentioned the state assessments will shorter, but while the length of the current assessment system is certainly an issue, the flawed construction is more of a problem.  A better question would be: are there alternative methods to assessing our children's educational progress than high-stakes standardized tests? 

As someone connected to the heart and soul of parents across New York, I can firmly state that a few snarky talking points and misleading statements will not change the tide of revolution in the Empire State.   These so-called reformers will not win the hearts and minds of NYS families because they are not connected to our schools.  Are they PK-12 educators?  Do they have children currently in PK-12 impacted by the Common Core?   How can they even conceive what is occurring in our schools and kitchen tables when most of the signatories have no connection to our public schools as a current parent or educator?  These groups, with their funding from the Gates Foundation and other big business interests, will not defeat the grass-roots, parent led revolution against the corporate education reform movement.   

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Amazing! Opt Out percentages from 2015

Only 27 districts (some of which are a single small specialized schools) out of approximately 700 made the Federally mandated 95% participation rate for the 2015 NYS ELA Assessment & Math Assessment.  

(click the links above for a list of each NYS district's refusal percentage)

Amazing efforts which are resulting in State Education officials scrambling to get parents to "Opt-IN" to the assessment program.  Pearson will give its final 3-8 assessments in the spring of 2016 as Questar will be the new vendor(and moving towards computerized testing).  Commissioner Elia has recently stated the tests will be shorter.  Great, but.......

There are so many issues that need to be resolved before parents will "Opt-IN" again:

  • Are tests an accurate measure of student achievement?
  • Tying educator evaluation and school ranking/standing corrupts the testing system and causes test-prep and narrowing of the curriculum.
  • Since the NYS Assessments have been part of Common Core implementation, concerns about the age/grade level inappropriate content and reading levels have been raised.
  • The Common Core is a significant issue as educators had virtually no voice in the development of the standards resulting in serious questions about age/grade level inappropriate standards.
  • The impact of the current test system on special education students and English-Language Learners needs to be addressed.
  • Do we really think testing an 8-year old can determine that child's college-readiness?
Refusals will continue to rise unless NYSED, the Governor and the State Legislature address ALL of the flaws in our testing program.  

Sunday, September 6, 2015

2015-16 Refusal Letter #optout

Here is my family's 2015-16 Refusal/Opt Out letter.  Why are we sending in our letter at the beginning of the school year?  The massive boycott in the spring of 2015 that resulted in about 220,000 students refusing the NYS Assessments had many districts with a high percentage of opt outs. Parents in the opt out movement have been fighting the need to "test-prep", which in the long-run is more harmful then the assessments themselves.  If enough parents in a school, grade-level or classroom were to present their Refusal Letters in September, would this reduce or eliminate the need to prepare a class, grade-level or school for the assessments?  Would a significant statement by families alleviate the pressure on schools, administrators, and teachers?  Could teachers bring more creativity, creative thinking and imagination into the classroom?

We based our 2015-16 letter on the letter created by the NYSAPE Opt Out committee.  The actual letter we sent to our children's schools eliminated some of the check off lines that do not apply to our children's grade levels.

You can copy and paste the words below or use this link to view/copy or edit your own letter.

2015-2016 NYS Refusal Letter

Student:   ______________________
School:     ______________________
Teacher:   _____________________
Grade:      ______

Dear Educators,

We are writing today to formally inform the district of our decision to refuse to allow our child __________________, to participate in:

______ the 2016 New York State grade 3-8 ELA assessment

______ the 2016 New York State grade 3-8 math assessment

______ any stand-alone New York State field testing in the 2015/16 school year (grades 3-12)

______ any local/benchmark assessment
used in the New York State teacher evaluation system administered in the fall, winter, and spring (may include STAR, AIMSweb, MAP/NWEA, SLO's) in the 2015/16 school year  (excluding middle school local assessments being used as a final grade)

______ the 2016 grade 4 New York State science assessment

______ the 2016 grade 8 New York State science assessment

Our refusal should in no way reflect on the teachers, administration, or school board. This was not an easy decision for us, but we feel that we have no other choice. We simply see these tests as harmful, expensive, and a waste of time and valuable resources.

We refuse to allow any data to be used for purposes other than the individual teacher’s own formative or cumulative assessment. We are opposed to assessments whose data is used to determine school ranking, teacher effectiveness, or any other purpose other than for the individual classroom teacher’s own use to improve his or her instruction.

We hope that other parents will join our efforts here at __________ so we can reduce the need to prepare for the state assessments and allow our teachers to focus on creativity and critical thinking. 

We are aware that NYS Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia will direct you to talk us out of this decision in an effort to push forward the corporate takeover of public education.  We decline any such meeting or phone call.  Do not contact us for that reason.   Commissioner Elia and Chancellor Tisch have attempted to paint families who boycott high-stakes testing as uninformed, when we completely understand the harm that such assessments have done to our children’s public education.  To protect yourself and our district, keep this letter as proof to Commissioner Elia that we have declined.  Instead, we invite you and other district officials to attend an educational seminar detailing the expert research and reasons that have led parents to refuse participation in this harmful testing program.