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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.

Comments   

0 #15 REALLY? 2015-05-19 12:15
:-x :-x
Your kids won't die they are fine taking a test. If y'all think your kids are SO smart and is college ready a four hour test wont kill them. If anything it should be essay! Grow up parents your all being immature.
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+2 #14 Another Parent 2015-04-16 22:49
I too wrestled with what to do with my three kids of testing age, and decided on not opting out.

My youngest told me she cried because she was so frustrated with not being able to answer all of the questions. She is a great reader, has consistently got fours on her report cards, and loves school. She told me she felt ashamed at herself, and didn't want to tell me - her own mother - that she thinks she failed, because she thought I'd be disappointed in her.

My middle child told me that his tests were filled with typos, grammatical errors, and questions that had no rhyme or reason. He told me he had an inordinate amount of questions to answer, and essays to write, and that less than 10% of the kids in his class actually finished the exam. He was frustrated and angry.

My oldest child described for me verbatim some of the questions she was asked. They made me sick in how deliberately obtuse, ambiguous, and unclear both the questions AND the answers were.

I regret not opting them out. I am angry that Cuomo and our legislators allowed this sham to occur. I am angry that I didn't make the right decision for my own children.

We are opting out of the math test next week.
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+4 #13 Parent 2015-04-13 18:21
I wrestled and I finally decided yesterday. After doing exhaustive research, I opted my daughter out. Over the weekend, I reviewed test materials with my child that I found on line. My 3rd grader was extremely well prepared, but I also got to see what a farce these tests are. The ELA questions are deliberately misleading. Then, I turned my attention to the math, which was truly confounding. The test makers are not allowing students enough time, designing truly confusing questions and then using the outcome to punish public schools and their teachers. I fear we could lose local control, and I am done. Imagine that the SAT, GRE GMAT and LSAT all are shorter than these state tests. Does that make sense?
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+5 #12 2teachers 2015-04-06 22:50
This push for privatization is deep and long-term, just like healthcare was privatized over the 80s and 90s, the idea that middlemen profiteers can stand between parents and schools is the next frontier (one of the Walton heirs' foundations just recently held a strategy conference on this for hedge fund investors).

Key PAC-funded lawmakers in Albany were specifically encouraged to back the governor's agenda to increase the impact of tests and rob schools of local autonomy.

Specifically, parents and elected school boards are seeing erosion of their rights to evaluate teachers as they see fit, to test students as they see fit, to determine what's tested. But just as bad are the unfunded mandates requiring administrators to spend countless hours tending to APPR compliance when they should be doing their real jobs.

NY and MA had superior standards before Common Core, so the fact that NYSED quietly adopted these new standards bypassing the legislature and our school boards is one of the greatest hoodwinking stories ever.

Chasing federal funding, NYSED has been willing to turn to shady entities like the Regents Research Fund, privately-funde d think tanks imbedded into the education department. Now that the RTTT money is all gone, it's all private money and PACs fueling NY's reform efforts.

The idea that measuring by itself can help failing schools is curious, but just as bad is interjecting unfunded mandates into high performing schools where nothing was broken in the first place.
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+5 #11 SMS Parent 2015-04-06 15:59
My child is refusing testing this year. Scarsdale has a tradition of pushing back against standardized tests going back to the beginning of the runaway NCLB train so there need not be ambiguity looking back on 13 years of wreckage.

Last week NYSUT, the state teachers union called for a statewide mass opt out for all parents of students in grades 3-8. A day later, Randi Weingarten of the AFT endorsed the refusal movement as well, saying she would opt her kids out too. Now, multiple Regents have joined, as well as AQE and WFP too.

As a teacher watching this unfold in the classroom, I know annual testing is a wolf in sheep's clothing, sold to parents as necessary when it adds work to tell us nothing we didn't already know in greater detail from our normal conversations and parent feedback.

The actual reasons for the testing go back to the successful lobbying by testing industry giant Pearson LLP for billion dollar contracts to develop testing materials and permanent revenue streams. In this model, they tell us we are lacking, and perpetually sell us the cure. Testing is the engine that makes it all run because whoever writes the annual tests controls what's taught in the schools and can then offer the ideal curriculum.
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-1 #10 Comments.. 2015-04-06 15:27
... for this article are not working. I know of many who have tried to post a comment for this article.
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+6 #9 What a NYS Regent Says: 2015-04-05 08:21
“As a Regent of the State of New York, I cannot endorse the use of the current state tests for teacher/princip al evaluation since that was not the purpose for which they were developed. It is axiomatic in the field of testing that tests should be used only for the purpose for which they were designed. They were designed to measure student performance, not teacher effectiveness. The American Statistical Association, the National Academy of Education, and the American Educational Research Association have cautioned that student tests should not be used to evaluate individual teachers. Nor should these tests be used for student growth measures until there is clear evidence that they are valid and reliable. The Board of Regents should commission an independent evaluation of these tests to verify their reliability and validity before they are used for high-stakes purposes for students, teachers, principals, and schools. How can we criticize people for opting out when the tests have not been verified? We need to cease and desist in the use of these tests until such time as we can be confident of their reliability and validity. If tests do meet those criteria, the tests must be released to teachers and to the public after they are given, in the spirit of transparency and accountability.”

Dr. Kathleen Cashin (posted on dianeravitch.ne t)
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+6 #8 Harold Bloch 2015-04-03 16:14
"Frustrated and Angry," is spot-on. I read both my third graders test prep materials and my fifth grade test prep materials, and was appalled at the ambiguity of the questions themselves, and the developmental inappropriatene ss of the subject matter.

My children will be opting out, and I have placed several calls to Assemblywoman Paulin about how ludicrous these new evaluations and state regulations are on a high performing district like ours.

Our students are college and career ready before they leave high school. We have one of the highest graduation rates in the entire state. My children are being taught by phenomenal teachers. 95+% of our graduates go on to four year colleges.

Enough is enough.

It's time to take action by "starving the beast." The data-driven beast that is. It's time to refuse the test for your children.
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+5 #7 Frustrated and Angry 2015-04-02 23:47
Of COURSE my kids at Fox Meadow, Edgewood, or Greenacres (not telling which) are going to opt out. Yours would too, if you saw some of the official New York state test prep math and english material that was sent home for review these last two weeks.

This week my third grader got an elapsed time problem that was similar to the kinds of problems I remember my SIXTH GRADER working on last year: "James starts swimming at (picture of an analog clock showing 2:55) this time. He swims for 110 minutes. What time does he finish?

What a ridiculous question for an eight-year-old. Elapsed time is a fifth grade concept, especially on an analog clock, and especially when a child is asked to add one hour and fifty minutes to 2:55.

Similarly, they were asked to find the area of an irregularly shaped patio that could not be found due to the dimensions labeled in any conceivable way for her to decipher.

Consider the fact that she also brought home an ELA practice test that had a play written in the 18th century for her to analyze, an idiotic folk tale about a camel with no clear answer, and an equally inappropriate text that couldn't be answered at all unless your child knew what a "trough" was. Unfortunately, my child is not a pig farmer, and thus she cried.

There is no reason NOT to protest these insulting, demeaning, meaningless tests, ESPECIALLY for elementary school kids. None whatsoever.

They are NOT preparing my child for life in any meaningful way.
Third graders are babies - children that need to experience joy in school, not a month's worth of test prep questions taken directly from the state's manuals that are inappropriate, confusing, frustrating, and meaningless.
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+8 #6 Wake Up, Scarsdale 2015-04-02 18:29
Just because your kid scores well on the test, it doesn’t mean that will necessarily help his/her teacher’s rating. According to the State’s rating system, students have to show “growth” on state tests for a teacher to be rated “effective.” That means that overall student scores in the class have to improve each year, otherwise the teacher is labeled “developing” or “ineffective.” And if a Scarsdale teacher or principal is “ineffective” 3 years in a row, the State now requires that the teacher or principal be fired -- even the ones that YOU think are amazing. And it’s not that the State has the "subjective" information to know better than you. As 10583 just posted recently, the State’s tests and teacher rating system are neither reliable nor validated measures and methods. We highly educated Scarsdale parents know all about junk food, yet we're passively permitting junk science to govern our kids’ education? And how many parents with kids in elite private schools do you know are demanding to have their young kids subjected to unreliable standardized tests just to ready them for future stress? Let's all be clear, the real purpose and goal of these tests is to numerically rate our teachers in order to do a political end run around teacher tenure in NY. Whatever you personal feelings are about tenure or about individual teachers in Scarsdale, parents who really want their kids to achieve high standards should be holding the state accountable for high standards and demanding state education policy go back to being based on proven practices with independently validated tests. We Scarsdale parents have been too silent and passive, while others across the State have been petitioning and opting out. At least get yourself informed, ask your PTA and school board for more information if needed, and send an email or call your legislators, the Governor, and the Regents immediately. The firings can begin as early as next year.
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