Tag Archives: united opt out

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.

About that test…………..

As a first grade teacher, I do not give NYS ELA and MATH exams. (YET!) I expect that I will be giving some sort of STATE or NATIONAL exam before I retire in 5 years.

I do give “tests” in my classroom – I have always assessed my students. But now, my first graders – some of whom were 5 years old when the year started are tested 3 times a year using the following:

STAR TESTS :They take either Early Literacy or Reading depending on how many sight words they know which means I had to assess their sight word knowledge in September. They also take the Math test.

DIBELS: Keep in mind that the DIBELS tests are timed – they have one minute for each of the following portions on which they are tested: Initial Sound Fluency, Letter Naming Fluency, Phoneme Segmentation Fluency, Oral Reading Fluency, and Oral Reading Retell.

RUNNING RECORDS: My students are expected to be reading at a LEVEL K by the end of first grade, and a LEVEL D and the start of the year. We use the Fountas and Pinnell leveling system, and got our benchmarks from Lucy Calkins’ Reading and Writing Project.

Sight Word Knowledge: They are expected to know 75 words by November, and 175 by June.

Math Fact Fluency: They should be “fluent” in addition and subtraction to 10 by June.

This year, also for the first time, I am REQUIRED to give letter grades to my students in ELA, MATH, SOCIAL STUDIES, and SCIENCE.

I dutifully put my grades into the electronic grade book (of course, that DATA is being compiled into a state-wide and possibly nation-wide database) and the report cards are printed. Three times a year, I send home a separate report with all of the above mentioned testing DATA on it.

So, when circumstances present themselves, and I need to meet with parents, what do I talk about? Well, it’s NOT that TESTING stuff! All that data tells me is what that child did at one moment in time. When I talk to parents, we talk about the WHOLE CHILD. In fact, that’s the only time they’re going to hear about social and emotional growth and development because that is no longer included in any report I send home. We talk about our shared hopes and concerns.

I watched all three of my children take NYS exams in ELA, MATH, SCIENCE and SOCIAL STUDIES. Every summer we would wait and wait to get the test report in the mail. While my children typically scored a 3 or 4, I usually threw those reports out and told them “I’ve seen your report card, I know how you’re doing. Don’t let one or two tests define you.”

Now, I’ve watched as my two oldest have applied to and been accepted at the universities of their choice. I’ve watched them both take and retake the SAT. I once again told them “Don’t let one test define you.”  Interestingly, the NYS Regents Exams, which we’ve always been told are so important, aren’t even considered on college applications!  I’ve listened at University Open Houses and always asked “Are the SAT and ACT OPTIONAL?” For the most part, I’ve been told yes.

So, PARENTS, about that test………….it doesn’t matter!! There is no one test that should EVER EVER define your child! Your children, my children……..all children are so much MORE than a TEST SCORE!

Why I MUST Occupy

I am going to Washington DC to join other activists at Occupy the DOE 2.0 because:

  • Try as I might, I cannot gain a lot of traction here in my little town. I talk and talk and talk, but for the most part, I feel like I’m talking to myself. Oh, my colleagues “get it”, but with declining enrollment, looming observations, and all the meetings and paperwork – they just don’t seem as fired up as I am about the current state of public education. I need to go to re-charge my activist batteries and return home energized to keep talking.
  • My students DESERVE better than the paced curriculum that NYSED is pushing on them. THEY do NOT need a teacher reading from a script, but a teacher who takes into account their individual differences and does her damnedest to make her classroom where each of them can progress at their own pace.
  • Our NATION deserves better. We cannot allow the likes of Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp, Mike Bloomberg, Bill Gates and Andrew Cuomo to control the narrative about what “good teaching” and “good learning” are. We have to STOP the Race to the Top!
  • I will have the opportunity to be surrounded by like-minded people who are informed, passionate and looking to organize in a way that my Union doesn’t seem willing to do.
  • I have to show my own children the importance of standing up for those who need help – whether they are children in rural communities or urban areas, I have to be the voice of the voiceless. My own kids need to know that being a citizen means you look out for others, and you speak up when you see injustice.
  • It’s just the right thing to do…………I hope you join me.

http://unitedoptout.com/event/occupy-doe-2-0-the-battle-for-public-schools-read-all-details-here/