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Will Your Children Take the State Tests?

protectourschoolsThe NYS Department of Education is putting Scarsdale School administrators and Scarsdale parents between a "rock and a hard place," according to Scarsdale Middle School Principal Michael McDermott. Though he has been vocal about the flaws in the state testing system for years, his position as Principal prevents him from recommending that students boycott the state tests. To those who think the school district is not doing enough to fight Albany, McDermott says, "Its not that we have been silent – we have taken a leadership position with the powers that be to point out the flaws in the system and the negative impact it has had on the students in the district." However he cautions, "I have first amendment rights to express my views but there is a fine line between individual rights vs. my responsibilities as a district administrator."

School Superintendent Thomas Hagerman and Principal McDermott along with other administrators from NYC and Westchester schools recently had a 2.5 hour meeting with NYS Deputy Secretary for Education Elana Sigall to address real concerns about APPR, test scores and assessments. We asked McDermott why the state does not permit high-performing districts like Scarsdale from opting out of the testing and he said, "It's very frustrating. The NYS Regents can't differentiate who is successful and who is not so we all get treated the same way. Though representatives from school districts from all over the world come to Scarsdale to observe best practices, we can't get anyone to drive two hours south from Albany to see what is going on here."

On March 30th, parents with children in grades 3 – 8 in Scarsdale received an email from the Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Lynne Shain. Shown below it instructs parents who wish to have their children recused from state testing to send refusal letters to their school principals by April 2. However, the email warns, that there could be consequences for the school district if 95% of students do not take the tests.

After three years of failure to meet the 95% quota, Shain says Scarsdale would be "deemed a district in cuomo3need of assistance and would have to develop, submit and comply with a Local Assistance Plan (LAP), until we reach and maintain a 95% participation rate, with onerous reporting requirements, that would have a cost in time and staff support."

Governor Cuomo's education plan is meeting opposition from all over the state. According to School Principal Carol Burris and Bianca Tanis, a special education teacher and founder of NYS Allies for Public Education, "New York is on the leading edge of a growing national Opt Out movement—a movement that galvanizes the energy of parents, teachers and administrators who are pushing back against the Common Core tests and standardized test-based reforms. Support for such practices has plummeted, with Governor Andrew Cuomo's education reforms dragging his approval ratings down to their lowest level ever. By more than a 2 to 1 margin, New Yorkers trust the teachers union more than the governor, and less than 30 percent want test scores to determine teacher pay and tenure.

Last year the parents of approximately 60,000 New York students in Grades 3-8 refused to have their children take the English Language Arts and mathematics exams. This year, the New York State Allies for Public Education, a coalition of pro-public school, anti-testing advocates, are sponsoring more than 40 forums across the state, and parents are coming out in droves to express their dislike of Common Core test-based reform. One forum on Long Island, featuring Diane Ravitch, had nearly 1,500 attendees. Other forums have drawn hundreds of parents and teachers who applaud Opt Out as the strategy to stop the attacks on public schools and teachers."

We asked a few local parents for their view on the upcoming state tests and whether or not their children would participate. Here are a few comments:

Quaker Ridge Parent: My children in 5th grade at Quaker Ridge will be refusing the state tests, as they did last year. In my opinion, the tests, as they are currently written, are not authentic assessments, as they do not provide any diagnostic information about the student. I object to both the content and duration of the tests. I also do not believe that teachers should be judged by the scores their students receive on these tests. I am glad that our district allows children to refuse via letter, as it would be absurd to require a child as young as 8 years old to personally refuse in front of classmates. Children who refuse are counted as "not tested." They do not receive a zero. Consequences to the district from a less than 95% participation rate would only happen after three years in a row of less than 95% participation. The consequence would be a requirement to implement a Local Assistance Plan to boost participation. Big deal. I would argue that the amount of time and money spent on a LAP would be less than the amount of time and money spent on administering flawed tests.

Another Mom says, "I have kids in grades 5 and 8. We are opting out of the State tests for two main reasons: 1) my understanding is that the State tests do not yield timely, actionable results that would help my children in any way and 2) I don't think it's a good use of their time - this won't prepare them for life and doesn't "teach" test taking - we will prepare them for that in other ways (i.e SAT prep, etc). "

Greenacres Mom: So I guess I have a minority view. I have no problem with my kids taking these tests because life is full of tests and forgetting the test itself, I think as much practice as they can get sitting for tests, feeling that stress and working it through will only help them later in life. So for me, it's not about the content, but the actual experience.

Here is the email from Lynne Shain

Dear Parents of Students in Grades 3-8,

Since my March 19 letter to you about Grades 3-8 testing, we've been working with the State on a daily basis to get clarification on testing regulations. We've received vague and often contradictory responses. Recently, we learned that it is now a district decision as to whether to accept parent refusal letters, and we have decided to accept them. To expedite the process, parents sending refusal letters are asked to do so by April 13, but preferably by April 2 before spring vacation, through an email to the principal, the receipt of which can be quickly acknowledged. If a principal receives parent refusal letters by April 13, we will not put a test in front of the children involved during the testing or make-up days. During testing days, students will stay in their testing room and may read. On make-up days, students will not have to report to the make-up room and will follow their regular class schedule.

Please understand that the NYS Department of Education requires all schools to have a 95% participation rate in State testing. We've been told if we do not comply there is not only an adverse effect on teacher, school, and district scores, but that there is an additional penalty to the district. In Scarsdale's case, as best as we can determine, there would not be any negative impact on State aid. However, if we do not have 95% of our students take the State tests for three years in a row, we would be deemed a district in need of assistance and would have to develop, submit and comply with a Local Assistance Plan (LAP), until we reach and maintain a 95% participation rate, with onerous reporting requirements, that would have a cost in time and staff support.

I have included below the citations that were sent to us in the past week from the NYSED. If further clarification is needed, please feel free to contact me.

Lynne Shain
Assistant Superintendent for Instruction

Reference Information Regarding Testing and Student Participation

Common Core English Language Arts and Mathematics Tests School Administrator's Manual Page 9: All students are expected to participate in State tests as part of the core academic program. Absences from all or part of the required academic program should be managed in accordance with the attendance policies of the district. For accountability and other statewide reporting purposes, students who do not participate in an assessment are reported to the State as not tested. Schools do not have any obligation to provide an alternative location or activities for individual students while the tests are being administered."

Student Information Repository System (SIRS) Manual: 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 who indicate refusal however, answer at least one question on the test, will receive a scale score and performance level based on the questions answered."

Steven Katz's memo re: Information on Student Participation in State Assessments
"With the exception of certain areas in which parental consent is required, such as Committee on Special Education (CSE) evaluations for students with disabilities and certain federally-funded surveys and analyses specified under the federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (see 20 U.S.C. 1232h), there is no provision in statute or regulation allowing parents to opt their children out of State tests. The failure to comply with the requirements provided above will have a negative impact on a school or school district's accountability, as all schools are required to have a 95% participation rate.

On Mar 20, 2015 Ira Schwartz, Assistant Commissioner, wrote: There are multiple negative consequences for not meeting the required 95% participation rate requirement:
(1) Schools in which subgroups do not meet the participation rate will fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
(2) SED will continue to determine and report AYP every year. A school that has not been designated as Focus or Priority and fails to make AYP for the same subgroup for the same measure for 3 successive years would be identified this year as a Local Assistance Plan (LAP) school. LAP schools would have their accountability status changed from Good Standing to LAP for this school year. LAP schools, in collaboration with the school district, will be required to annually use a diagnostic tool to develop a local assistance plan.
(3) Schools failing to make AYP cannot come off Priority and Focus Status.
(4) Schools failing to make AYP cannot become Reward Schools, and would be ineligible for the funding that comes with such a designation.
(5) Schools that persistently fail to meet participation rates may be subject to participation rate audits and may be required to develop plans to improve participation rates.

Read more about this issue here: What do you think? Will your children be taking the tests? Enter your thoughts in the comments section below.

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