Category Archives: Parents and Testing

Test Refusals in Southwestern NY – What’s going on?

There is so much going on in New York State around test refusals……rallies are being held everywhere it seems – except perhaps in Cattaraugus and Allegany Counties.

Last year, schools in these two counties had enormous numbers of refusals in proportion to their relatively small sizes. One school had a full ONE THIRD of students in grades 3-8 refuse the tests! You would think that the ball would be rolling faster and faster this year, with these schools’ Superintendents, Teachers and Parents leading the way. But, sadly that isn’t happening.

Shortly after the tests were given last year and refusal numbers came in – the BOCES Superintendent for CATT-ALLEGANY put out an urgent call to all school administrators in the districts in her region……… “WHY?”  and “What are you going to do to reduce the number of refusals next year?”  I may sound flip – but this was indeed the theme of her message – STOP the REFUSALS in 2015!! In fact, she (as rumor has it) demanded that districts give her “Plans for Reducing Refusals”.

It would do well for this writer to point out that this BOCES Superintendent is an experienced lawyer. She has NEVER been an educator, and in fact for many years was employed by BOCES to represent Districts in Contract Negotiations. For all I know, she is a lovely woman – more than likely she in fact IS a lovely woman. A lovely woman, a strong woman, an intelligent woman – doing her JOB. She is probably the kind of woman I’d like my daughter to be some day – working her way to a position that is to respected after many years of hard work. I have no personal grievance or even personal knowledge of  her. From the outside looking in – she has “made it” through the glass ceiling in a sense – she is BOCES Superintendent for crying out loud! KUDOS!

What I see coming from our BOCES Center is a push to enlist parent help in eliminating the GEA, which is a noble cause. What I don’t see coming from our BOCES Center is even a breath about supporting a parent’s right (and in the dire straits we face currently) encouragement to REFUSE the FLAWED TESTING and EVALUATION PLAN. It saddens me, because I know in my heart of hearts if there is going to be a revolution, a FIX to the mess in NYS – it’s not coming from them.

Perhaps this “doing the job”. Perhaps local district Superintendents are afraid – but it was rightly pointed out that these local Superintendents have nothing more to lose than any other Superintendent in NY by speaking out, by supporting parents, by making the refusal of the test a KEY POINT in sending a message to Albany and King Andy. It hurts my heart. It makes me angry. It makes me wonder what the end game looks like for districts in this region. We are a region of many small districts, rapidly losing student population and cutting staff on a regular basis.

Look through the component school directory, and see if you can find one district administrator explaining how refusing the tests is the way to end the madness. I can’t and neither can the parents.

Not to simply say that it’s “all BOCES fault”……..check around the lists of districts signing on to petitions to support a parent’s right to refuse – you won’t find us there either. Our NYSUT office doesn’t like hold those rallies either. Our local districts don’t like to hold those rallies. We hold “informational” meetings – but we have been told that the meetings must be “balanced” – yes, even on our own time. With constant staff cuts, there are very few who are willing to be vocal, and the few that were vocal last year are worn out and spread out – we have no network. We will travel to Buffalo for a rally (maybe if the weather is good and we are sure we wont’ be found out), but travel to Albany – that becomes a 24 hour saga. Syracuse – a 12 hour saga, and Rochester – a 6 hour saga………..

Understand that many of us KNOW what needs to be done and we sit at our monitors and cheer you on! We wish we could be you. We wish our Superintendents could be the ones you have standing arm in arm supporting  and encouraging test refusal – be we are already living in fear, and most of us want to hang on to what we have – even if we know in our hearts that it could all be taken from us anyway.

http://www.caboces.org/administration/contacts

http://www.caboces.org/component-school-directory

 

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Mixed Messages?

Today, my inbox had two very interesting bits of information.

1. Commissioner King’s “News and Notes” showed up telling me:

 “As you know, the Common Core will not just arrive in the mail in a shiny, new box. (The truth is, the CCSS show up at schools in brown cardboard boxes emblazened with PEARSON!) The Common Core is a comprehensive set of research-based and internationally-benchmarked standards that demands critical shifts in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Since the Board of Regents adopted the Common Core in 2010, the State Education Department has provided extensive and unprecedented resources and supports, including an abundance of instructional materials on EngageNY.org.”

Well, how very lucky for me – these are INTERNATIONALLY BENCHMARKED STANDARDS – and here I was becoming worried that they were national! Additionally, I am so lucky that EngageNY.org exists – because you know, I have no clue with my years of experience about how to read the standards and develop lessons. 

2. Randi Weingarten also sent me a lovely email telling me:

“We are committed to the success of getting the transition to Common Core right. To do that, we must help teachers and students master this new approach and not waste time punishing people for not doing something they haven’t yet been equipped to do. Can you imagine doctors being expected to perform a new medical procedure without being trained or provided the necessary instruments?That’s what is happening right now with the Common Core.”

What the what??? This is a NATIONAL UNION LEADER telling me that we need to get the “transition” to CCSS right. Hey, wait a minute – who even said that the CCSS are RIGHT? Where were the educators in developing these standards? Where is the ‘evidence’ that these standards are in some way better than the NYS Standards? Where is the PROOF that once we transition to them, reform will be done?? 

NYSUT, for their part, is FINALLY coming to the party and hosting a rally on June 8. I hope beyond hope that parents, students, and teachers show up and DEMAND TO BE HEARD! I hope that they shout “NO MORE!”

NO MORE HIGH STAKES TESTING! NO MORE CHILD ABUSE IN THE FORM OF HOURS UPON HOURS OF TESTING! NO MORE JUDGING STUDENTS, TEACHERS, PRINCIPALS AND SCHOOLS ON SECRET TESTS! NO MORE DECISIONS BEING MADE BY THOSE WHO KNOW NOTHING ABOUT EDUCATION!

On Being “College Ready”

My son has taken his parents for quite a “ride” over the last few months as he waited and waited to make a decision about which of the three colleges where he was accepted he would attend. As May 1 seemed to be looming, his father and I kept at him about that deadline and the need to make ANY decision!

He finally told us his decision, which I suspect has been his decision for a very long, but a little part of him just enjoyed watching his parents squirm. Last week, upon my insistence, he and his father went directly the admissions office of his chosen college to hand in the deposit and sign the financial aid paperwork.

When he arrived, he was met with the typical “You’ve made a great choice!” that any admissions counselor will give a kid who has decided to attend their college. But, here’s where it gets interesting………

He was remembered by the admissions counselor for his ESSAY! Yes, the essay that he wrote as part of his application, which was on the “topic of his choice” – not for his SAT or ACT scores, or even his high school transcript, and most definitely NOT for his ELA and MATH test scores in grades 3-8!!

Interestingly, this is the same child who had to be cajoled into attending a “Scholarship Invitational” at this college. He finally went, but only AFTER someone called him and told him it consisted of a 20 minute oral interview. (and being lured in by some free tickets to a sporting event) From what I can gather, the interview was conducted by 4 people, each asking him “some question” (his words, not mine). At the end, he was told that he could ask THEM a question. His question was “So, tell me, how has being part of this college community changed YOU?”  One of the panel replied “What a great question! I don’t think anyone has asked me that before.”

A few weeks later, an envelope arrived. Inside was a letter stating “You have been awarded an additional scholarship of $3000/year based on your interview.” Let me repeat : BASED ON YOUR INTERVIEW!

I tell this story not because I want a forum to sing the praises of my own child (obviously since my name isn’t on this) but because I want to point out that the line we are being fed as parents and as teachers that somehow NYS TESTING ‘proves’ college readiness is  LIE! NO ONE has ever asked to see his test scores from those tests. NO ONE cares if he was a 2, a 3 or a 4 when he was 10 years old. Yes, he submitted SAT and ACT scores and his HS transcript (which at the time was only HALF of his last year in high school), and yes those things factored into his admission, but remember – he was REMEMBERED for his writing and his speaking – both of which were his CHOICE!

As a parent, I have concerns about college readiness, but honestly none of them have to do with TESTS. I wonder about students’ ability to manage time and tasks when school is structured most often in a way where those are managed for them. I wonder about students’ ability to balance fun and work when most of the time constraints that schools put on them are taken away. I wonder about students’ ability to collaborate when school has become a test prep factory and everything is about competing NOT cooperating. I wonder about students’ ability to ‘think on their feet’ and make decisions after having spent 13 years in school where they were told what to learn and when to learn it.

An Antique Teacher Goes to Washington

The day dawned bright, cold and breezy in Washington DC on April 4. I layered up the clothing and headed downtown to the Dept. of Education. The crowd gathered there was much like the crowd I saw last year, but this year there were hugs and moments of “aha – a face to go with a name!” as activists from all over the country met in person for the first time.

As the time approached for the first “mic check” of Occupy 2.0, I was asked if I could talk. I summoned all the courage I had and took the mic. I honestly don’t remember every word I said, but I told the story of the WNYers for Public Education forum held in March. I told them that 6 people with a vision and a dream put together something that we weren’t sure would be well-attended or well-received. We took a chance and boy, were we ever SURPRISED! In the past month, Buffalo News outlets (both television and print) have exploded with news about “opting out”.

We hit a snag, though, because in NY, there is no “OPT OUT” provision in the law. As parents, we can opt out of vaccines, sex education, field trips, and even sports – but we cannot OPT OUR CHILDREN OUT of HIGH STAKES TESTS! So, the new word on the street is REFUSE! 

Apparently, this idea of a child refusing to take a high stakes test, has gotten the attention of the many “powers that be”. Superintendents have gone on TV to say “It’s part of life, get used to it.”

Just TODAY – the NYS Association of School Attorneys  released this document as ‘advice’ to school boards in regard to students refusing the test.

When I read it, I was FURIOUS – the veiled threat to check “attendance policy” resemble the outright threats that I’ve heard about from schools saying that refusing the High Stakes Tests could be considered “educational neglect”. My least favorite is the one to “check your student handbook” – clearly an encouragement to create some sort of PUNISHMENT for those children who refuse.

Then, I took a deep breath and remembered something : If they are pushing back this hard, it must be because they have HEARD US! They even reference Occupy in the memo!  This is actually GOOD NEWS! You see, the harder they push, the harder NYer’s will push back! Parents in NY are not going to be bullied – while in school the “Dignity for All” act teaches children that bullying is not acceptable! Parents will not allow their children to be held hostage all in the name of rating teachers, students, and schools based on high stakes tests DATA! These parents will show up at school with TV cameras and lawyers if needed, because, you see, the US SUPREME COURT has consistently held parental rights above the rights of the STATE. 

There are those that criticize me and other supporters of REFUSALS because they feel that children are being used as pawns or that children don’t really understand the idea of refusal. I’m sorry, but that is utter and complete BS! Students became pawns in this game long before their parents even knew what was happening. These students certainly understand that their days are full of “test prep” and that school isn’t really much FUN any more!

Further, I would argue that long before children can make thoughtful decisions, their parents make decisions for them: should they be vaccinated? should they eat fruits or vegetables? should they have a set bed time? Parents are “GUARDIANS” – they GUARD their children from danger! Parents who have decided to GUARD their children from High Stakes Tests should  have the right to do so. PERIOD.

Step into my WAYBACK Machine

Okay, I’m dating myself here a bit, but I used to really, really LOVE my Saturday cartoons and one of my absolute favorite times was when Mr. Peabody and Sherman would step into the Wayback Machine! For a few minutes, I would be transported back to an “important” event in history and get to see what happened, or what the writers wished we could know! I learned a lot from those trips in the Wayback Machine. For example, did you know that Ponce De Leon actually found the Fountain of Youth and ending up founding a Nursery School for all the men who were so thirsty that they drank from it?
Of course, that seems silly, but in my mind as a child – it seemed plausible. It led me to want to know MORE about Ponce De Leon and this magical fountain. When the topic came up in my studies, it led to my ability to draw from past experiences and ask questions.

I would like to take you on a trip in MY PERSONAL Wayback Machine as a first grade teacher. Sadly, we aren’t going back to 1513, but only to 2011. That was the year that I had this year’s current third graders in class.

In 2011, if I had a concern about a student and felt that the student needed extra services, I contacted the parent. We met, we talked about the child’s progress. I then went to the Reading Teacher and arranged for some extra help for the student. There was no RTI process, which by the way EXCLUDES parents. There were no monthly meetings where we tried some sort of “research based” intervention while waiting to get help for the child. Within a week, with parental consent, the student was receiving help!

2011 was also the year in which I attended training about Project Based Learning. I decided that the perfect “project” for my students would be to produce and present Fairy Tale Plays. We spent many school hours reading Fairy Tales, talking about the elements of Fairy Tales, and then moved on to talking about what made a play “good” or enjoyable.

My students created scenery, memorized lines, made costume decisions as a group, rehearsed, learned to wear a lapel mic, learned about blocking on the stage, gathered props, and got ready to put on our show!

During the show, LIttle Red Riding Hood was so into character that when the wolf arrived at Grandma’s house, she wandered off the stage to pick imaginary flowers. Her parents were panicked- had she lost her nerve? Later she told them, “I was just doing what Little Red Riding Hood would have been doing.” That student still asks me “Remember when I walked off the stage, and my mom thought I got scared?”

I had the great opportunity to see my students work together! I got to see the delight and a few tears  in parents’ eyes when they watched their “shy” child stand in front of everyone to deliver lines.

I’m not saying that it was a perfect time, but it was a child-centered time. Now, my days are filled with Progress Monitoring, analyzing STAR Test data, meeting with my PLC to discuss implementing the CCSS, assessing sight words, giving timed tests to make sure they all know their addition and subtraction facts, and in general keeping my head above water.

We are so busy testing and monitoring progress that we aren’t letting KIDS be KIDS! I have to “fudge” my daily attendance reporting in order for my students to have FREE PLAY every day. I am expected to have them all reading at the exact same level at the exact same time – there is no time for Little Red Riding Hood to wander around picking flowers.

Would I Lie to You?

Apparently, If you are a Commissioner of Education, the answer is YES! Lies abound from the offices of NYSED.

The lies are scary – intended, one can only imagine, to stop the recent vocal resistance through REFUSALS of the State Exams slated to begin in mid-April. The good folks at WNYers For Public Education ( http://www.wnyforpubliced.com/index.html)  have done a great job of exposing the lies told to Superintendents, Principals, Teachers and Parents. (See FAQ)

They have also created a great “Tools” section which includes what_you_need_to_know_about_refusing_state_tests.

As a teacher, let me tell you one of the BIGGEST lies being told, being bought, and being argued as PROOF that we actually NEED and should LOVE High Stakes Testings. The lie is that:

“These tests and the results help teachers inform and improve their instruction for all children.” 

My beautiful, funny, intelligent, inquisitive, creative first graders have taken both the STAR Reading and the STAR Math tests twice this year, unless of course, they have been “identified” as needing intervention – those poor kids have taken the tests MANY, MANY times. After the test, each student’s score is available to me immediately, you know, so that I can inform and improve my instruction. For my convenience, there is even an “Instructional Planning Report” for each child! Well, hallelujah, because you know – without it I wouldn’t have a clue where each child has room to improve!

These are direct quotes, taken from multiple “planning reports” for both Reading and Math:

“Understand that nouns can also be verbs”  “Identify the topic of a text”  “Recognize playful uses of language such as riddles and tongue twisters”  “Identify how words or phrases in literary text appeal to the senses” “Apply the vocabulary of position or direction” ” Count back by ones between 20 and 100″ “Count objects to 20”

Guess what?? I already know those things about the students that these comments were generated for! I knew most of it within the first month of school, and I could have predicted for the makers of the STAR tests, which of my students would score in the “watch” “intervention” or “urgent intervention” bands of their lovely color-coded charts. Additionally, I have already planned my instruction based on my DAILY INTERACTION with my students!

For those who teach grades 3 and up, the idea that a test score helps them plan and inform instruction is even more laughable. Test scores are not returned until mid-summer – by then isn’t it just a little too late to plan instruction?

They’re Starting to Feel It!

This is another of the many Messages from the Commissioner that just makes my blood boil!
I have deleted much of the message, and left this part all about the new COMMON CORE TESTS.
One has to ask, Why this sudden “push” to tell everyone that these new tests are so amazing?  Could it be that the powers in Albany are starting to HEAR US when we talk about having our children REFUSE to take the tests? Could it be that they are sort of like the Wizard that was just a sad fraud when the curtain was pulled back and not the “Wonderful Wizard” at all?
Reading this passage, on the heels of NYSUT’s “Listening Tour” and our own WNY4PE “Opt Out Forum” this past weekend, I’m guessing that we are finally being heard and taken seriously in Albany! Notice how the “Commish” reminds us that we all expect student scores to fall, but that no one expects it to adversely affect teacher, principal or school ratings.
Notice how he tells us (teachers, principals and anyone who subscribes to his updates) that he understands our stress. Notice how he makes a point about the CCSS being part of “Local Control”.
These are all LIES! Since APPR is in effect, the declining scores will most certainly affect ratings! How can they not, when it’s someone in Albany determining VAM scores? Local Control? That’s a lie too – there is NO MORE LOCAL CONTROL with the adoption of the CCSS! In fact, NYSED is producing a state – wide curriculum of “Modules” that are scripted an paced, and by the way even include a list of the books you’re supposed to have your students reading. To everyone who says “What’s the problem with Standards?”, I say – THIS IS THE PROBLEM WITH THE CCSS!! NYSED has, in fact, made them a curriculum – with no local input, no teacher input!!
Message from Commissioner King

So, what do Common Core assessments really mean? Here are five key points – emphasized in a recent field memo from Deputy Commissioner for P-12 Education Slentz – that should help address some frequently asked questions about the transition to the Common Core.

  1. In 2013, New York State, for the first time, will be reporting 3rd through 8th grade student grade-level expectations against a trajectory of college- and career-readiness as measured by tests fully reflective of the Common Core. As a result, the number of students who score at or above grade level expectations will likely decrease.
  2. As mentioned above, we expect the assessment scores will decline. But we also expect that decline will have little or no impact on principals’ and teachers’ State-provided growth scores. Based on New York’s approach to measuring growth relative to demographically similar students, similar proportions of educators will earn each rating category (Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, and Ineffective) in 2012-13 compared to 2011-12.
  3. The number of students meeting or exceeding Common Core grade-level expectations should not be interpreted as a decline in student learning or a decline in educator performance. The results from these new assessments will give educators, parents, policymakers, and the public a more realistic picture of where students are on their path to being well-prepared for the world that awaits them after they graduate from high school.
  4. No new districts will be identified as Focus Districts and no new schools will be identified as Priority Schools based on 2012-13 assessment results.
  5. Local policies and practices should balance the need for increased rigor against legitimate student expectations for access to educational programs, including local promotion and admission policies.

There’s much more information about the Common Core and the new assessments below and on EngageNY.org. Take a moment to check out what’s posted there. 

Again, I understand how stressful change can be, especially when you’re asking students to read more challenging texts, to better support their arguments with evidence drawn from text, to write from sources, to achieve deep conceptual understanding of the most important math concepts of each grade, and to apply their math skills to real-world problems. But we owe it to our students to move forward; opportunity awaits them and it’s our responsibility to make sure they’re equipped to seize that opportunity.

Thank you for your dedication and perseverance over these last three years and now as we continue to move forward to implement the Regents Reform Agenda. Our students, schools, communities, and state are all the better for the work you do every day.

 Dr. John B. King, Jr.

Interestingly, I also found out that today, this NYSUT Ad is running across the state. So, folks, now is the time to REALLY put the pressure on Albany. Go to http://www.nysut.org/testing and sign the petition. While you’re there……..take the opportunity to “Tell It Like It Is” – no worries if you don’t consider yourself an “educator”, you have the chance to let the “man behind the curtain” know that you’ve pulled the curtain back and see him for what he is – NO FRIEND OF PUBLIC EDUCATION!