Tag Archives: high stakes testing

Let It Go for the test refusers

I was making my way around the internet and found this, which was billed as a “parody”. I guess in the simplest terms, it is a parody, but sadly as I watched it, I realized that it was a video encouraging students to do their very best on the upcoming tests.

 

While I don’t have the outright musical talent, nor the equipment to make my own video, I have rewritten the lyrics in honor of all the students who refused NYS exams.

If anyone reading this has the ability and/or the desire to use these to make a video, feel free! If you want to change the words, go for it! If you just want to sing along, I’ve included a karoke version of the song as well.

Let It Go

(to honor all the test refusers)

The test lays flat on my desk right now

Not a question to be seen

A tyranny of secrecy

And it looks like I’m the pawn

 

The thoughts are howling in my head; a swirling storm inside

Can’t think about it, even though I’ve tried

 

Don’t open it, Don’t make a mark

Be the rebel you’ve always wanted to be

Refuse, Opt out –  don’t let them win

So  now WE WIN!

 

Pencils down, Pencils down

Can’t hold it back anymore

Pencils down, Pencils down

Walk away and slam the door

 

I don’t care

What they’re going to say

Let the tests rage on

The tests never measured me anyway

 

It’s funny how some distance

Makes everything seem small

And the tests that once controlled me

Can’t get to me at all

 

 

It’s time to show what I can do

Create and play and then break through

No test, No test, No test for me

I’m free

 

Pencils down, Pencils down

Can’t hold it back anymore

Pencils down, Pencils down

Walk away and slam the door

 

I don’t care

What they’re going to say

Let the tests rage on

 

My power flurries through the air into the floor

My soul is spiraling in amazing thoughts all around

And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast

I’m never going to test

The past is in the past

 

Pencils down, Pencils down

And I’ll rise like the break of dawn

Pencils down, Pencils down

That useless test is gone

 

Here I stand

In the light of day

Let the test rage on

The test never measured me anyway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Parent’s Fear

I had an interesting conversation tonight with a parent whom I was CERTAIN was planning to have her child refuse the tests this spring. This is what she said to me: “I just love my daughter’s teacher, and when I think that I could do something that might hurt her, I get worried.”  This is a common thread of conversation that I’ve been hearing lately among the once-certain, once-defiant parents who were completely committed to test refusals last summer.

I think I understand where their hearts are. I think I do “get it” when they say that their WORST FEAR is that something that they or they child could do would possibly have a negative effect on a teacher that is beloved, a teacher whom they recognize as one who cares deeply for their child and has done everything in her power to make sense of all the CCSS nonsense in NYS.

I also think that I understand in their heart of hearts, these parents aren’t afraid of rocking the boat, or afraid of standing up to NYSED. What they do fear, however, is that personal connection – how it would affect someone that they have come to trust and respect and admire.

Despite the many gains made in my little school district, this one fear still exists. It is driving decisions that are truly based in a concern for the well-being of an individual PERSON – one that they care about so very deeply.

So …….. to all of you out there that are living with this fear, I want to tell you:

1. You must do what is BEST for YOUR CHILD.

2. Your child’s teacher – that person that you have grown to respect and trust and admire – will not be ‘hurt’ by a test refusal. In fact, if enough of you refuse – a score cannot even be generated! And, truly, how unique is that – that your child’s teacher would not be defined by a number and neither will your child!

3. Teachers support you in your refusals, and you know what else? Even IF somehow your refusal “hurts” us – we know that you have our backs. That means more than anything that a test could ever tell us.

http://www.nystoptesting.com/2012/08/what-opt-out-is-not.html

Would I Lie to You?

This week, a very personable “professional developer” from BOCES came to my school to “guide” the K-6 teachers in the use of the Tri-State Quality Rubric – a rubric that is to help us all align our lessons to the CCSS and is to be used as a “learning tool”. We have been assured that this exercise is in no way evaluative. In fact, the goal is to help become more “thoughtful and reflective” as we plan lessons.

I can deal with this – professional development is not a bad thing. I have no problems with learning about new tools and strategies that will improve my teaching.  However, what I cannot deal with is the bag of lies that comes along with this professional development.

“The modules on the engageny web site are just resources.” This lie was repeated over and over so much that I believe the folks at NYSED think if they just get enough folks to say it, teachers will eventually believe it.  If this is true, then why, oh why, dear BOCES Staff Specialist when I go there are the modules listed under “NYS CURRICULUM”?

“The CCSS were developed by teachers.”  OK – so much has been written that by now I can’t believe that anyone honestly thinks I would believe this one, but go ahead and keep repeating it because obviously if you say it enough, it must be true right?

“This will strengthen your lesson planning, and it is not an evaluative tool about your teaching.”  I may not be the brightest bulb in the bunch, and I am in no way a “Staff Specialist”, but I fail to see how we can discuss my lesson planning, have an observation of the execution of the lesson plan and NOT talk about my teaching. Now, it is very well true that my teaching will not be evaluated – but how on earth do you evaluate my lesson planning WITHOUT making any comment about my teaching?  Of course, in my humble opinion this is exactly the problem with the CCSS and NYSED’s scripted curriculum – what is written on a piece of paper doesn’t necessarily translate to what is good teaching practice taking into account the unique make-up of my classroom.

I can stand a lot of things – among them the lies that are repeated over and over again about the CCSS – but I cannot stand for the lies that are being told to my child!

My child is a junior in High School, which this year gives him a “unique opportunity” as he and I have been told. He gets to take the “old” English Regents exam twice and he gets to take the “new” CC-aligned ELA test. Best of all, the highest of all three scores will be the one that “counts” as his final exam score.

He has been told by his Guidance Counselor and his English teacher that he SHOULD take all 3 tests. That is an outright lie!! Of course, they try to work their magic of telling him what a great chance this is to keep taking the tests to get the highest grade possible.

What is required in NY for graduation is to PASS the ENGLISH REGENTS EXAM – PERIOD!! So, my son has a plan: He will take the exam next week IF he’s satisfied with his score, he will NOT take any more ELA exams. He is fully prepared to “sit and stare” if need be, although I told him he could just stay home sick on those days. He wants them to know that he’s buying the LIE – he wants to make a statement and I couldn’t be prouder of him!

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.