Sunday, December 6, 2015

Alternatives to High Stakes Testing and Evaluations.

The outline below is from my presentation to the Cuomo Common Core Task Force.  Several parent advocates from around NYS were invited to provide information to the task force.  My category of testimony was requested to be on assessment.  Other parents comment on testing and standards. Will the Task Force and Governor Cuomo listen to the concerns that parents from all corners of the Empire State have raised about the flawed education reforms forced upon our schools?  We will see.

My testimony focused on solutions, not just criticisms, as some of the corporate reformers have painted the Opt Out Movement as the party of "no',  In reality we have solutions that can actually provide a well-rounded educational opportunity for all children.

(*Please note that my testimony was given several weeks before the Federal ESEA bills have been close to final approval in Congress. )

Advisory on Assessment to NYS Common Core Task Force

Dear Task Force Members,

I have been involved in education for virtually my entire life, heading off to public school every fall since I was five years old through this August at the age of forty-five.  I can state with full confidence that I have never seen such uproar about the direction of Public Education in New York State than I have witnessed over the last few years.  Educators, parents, and most importantly students, have lost faith in our education system.  I view education from several angles: parent, teacher and school board member. In all three of these important roles, I am very troubled about the direction of state and national education reform.

Do reforms need to occur in education? Yes, but many of the current changes are not research-based and did not include the voices of the true stakeholders: parents and educators.  We can drive positive change if those who hold political power listen to people at the grassroots, local levels of education instead of those in legislative halls or corporate boardrooms.  All parents want their children to receive a challenging, appropriate, and well-rounded education that will enable their children to be flexible and “life ready” after they graduate from high school.   The current education reform movement is preventing public education in New York from achieving those parental goals.

I realize you have heard about many of the problems that have surfaced in New York State, so I will focus primarily on alternatives to the current direction of education reform. 

 (apologies for formatting when pasted from a word document)

I. Alternatives to current NYS Assessment System:

     A. Portfolios to assess student learning, teacher effectiveness, and school quality.

  1. Community input, evaluation, and review of student work to determine if students are getting an education that fits the needs of their community.
  2.  Local district professional and community review of educator portfolios to determine effectiveness and on-going professional growth.
  3. Community stakeholder review of educational goals of local districts using several local measures determined by community wants and needs.

     B. New York Consortium High Schools- show that alternatives to standardized testing exist and can achieve positive outcomes for students. 
 (*possibility under ESSA that NYS could apply for alternatives? )

     C. Portfolios sound costly and time consuming.


  1. This process can be done cheaper than current state assessment and APPR systems.
  2. More reliable and detailed results then current systems that label students, educators and schools with a number.
  3. Provides community voice and input- which are lacking in current systems.
  4. Allows for flexibility to meet diverse needs of districts throughout NYS.

     D. Decouple educator evaluations from testing to fullest extent possible under Federal law. (*this Federal mandate looks to change under the ESSA)

  1. New 3012-d law places test scores on a range of 50-100% for a teacher’s evaluation. 
  2. Places too much emphasis on test scores over creativity and critical thinking.
  3. Value Added Modeling growth scores are not a reliable measure of educator effectiveness and should not be used for employment decisions.
  4. Advocate removal of typing educator evaluation to test scores at all levels of government.

       E. Replace punishment for struggling schools with supports such as community school and whole child models.

       F. Ensure that each local district addresses a well-rounded educational experience with local input.

  1. Many schools under current test/punish model have narrowed elementary level curriculum to tested subjects of ELA/math.
  2. History, science and arts are neglected.
  3. Physical Education, recess and free play have been reduced or eliminated in an era where childhood obesity is a serious public health crisis.

II. Construction & design of any state-wide assessments that would be required by Federal or State law.
         A. Created by current NYS educators.
         B. Questions, answers, passages written at grade-level reading levels.
         C. Time on testing appropriate for age level.
         D. Advocate for grade-span testing or sampling with Federal Gov’t.

  1.  Sampling can be similar to NEAP testing and accomplish goal of assuring that all children have an appropriate educational opportunities.

        E. IEP/504 students receive all modifications and supports.
        F. Diagnostic design that truly assesses student strengths and weaknesses.
        G. Any required assessments are scored by each student’s classroom/subject teacher(s).
        H. Completely transparent as NYS did prior to Pearson contract- entire test released within a few weeks of completion of testing window.

III. Online Assessments – allow local choice for any required testing.
       A. Cost.

  1. Is online testing the primary reason Smart Schools Bond Act was proposed?
  2. Need to purchase and constantly update technology will go far beyond bond act dollars and will stress budgets in an era of education cuts.

         B. “Digital divide” for areas were many families do not have computers or access to high-speed internet.
               1. Will online testing create a further educational gap between haves and have-nots?

         C. Will computer instruction and typing become the next test prep? It is already occurring in many districts.

          D. Many logistical issues for school-wide online testing.

                1. Cannot test all students at same time.
                      a. Computer labs, portable computers, and library media centers will become testing locations instead of learning and research hubs for weeks, denying educational opportunities for classrooms not being tested.

                2. Reliability of technology.
                      a. Computers need constant updates and compatibility checks - expensive and time                                   consuming.

                      b. Reliability of internet connection and speed.

                3. Student learning styles.

                       a. Not all students comfortable using a computer to type or read information.

                       b. Typing and editing via an online test form is challenging for some students.

It is my hope that the Common Core Task Force will listen to the voices of students, parents, and educators from across New York State.  We have reached a precipice that requires serious change in direction in education policy in our state and nation.  An unprecedented event took place last spring when over 220,000 students boycotted the 3-8 NYS State Assessments.  Small, cosmetic, or superficial changes in our education system or policies will not satisfy the families across the Empire State who have brought their concerns to local and state officials.  It is time to change, we are not asking to reverse course, but head in a different direction.  Will you help lead that charge?

Respectfully submitted,
Chris Cerrone