I almost can’t believe that it has been more than a year since I started this blog with my first post about opting out of testing. A lot has changed and nothing has changed.
What has changed? People are more aware than ever about the destructive effects of education reform. We know that excessive testing corrodes the type of authentic learning experiences we want for our children. It’s easy to see if a child doesn’t enjoy school, but now we know why. We know that our children are being forced to learn at a rate and a level that isn’t appropriate for many of them. We know that education has taken a cookie-cutter turn for the worse and that many of our children are not benefiting from this at all. We know that it is wrong for teachers to be judged based on our children’s test scores. And we are outraged that the state is planning to collect our children’s private data and that our pleas as parents are completely ignored.
We know that the reform policies of New York State aren’t working. Parents, teachers, students, and community members are uniting in an unprecedented way to challenge this agenda. Forums continue to be organized across New York State and are always well-attended. The majority, including those who attended King’s listening forums, are speaking out against the reform agenda. I’m still in awe sometimes at the passion and energy that is being exhibited by individuals and groups across the state as they fight to wrest public education from the hands of bureaucrats and non-educators.
Sadly, there is much that hasn’t changed. Commissioner King, the SED, Governor Cuomo, and the Board of Regents largely are not listening to parents or educators, and one has to wonder how one can be so void of human emotions after hearing the many personal stories that were shared by attendees of King’s listening forums. Testing is still the driving force behind public education, and the meager rotten bone we were thrown regarding the elimination of one eighth grade test is laughable at best. Although the upload of sensitive private information to inBloom has been delayed, it is still disturbing that New York State has not pulled out of this wretched scheme. APPR is a cruel joke. How can we expect more than a teach-to-the-test style of education when test scores account for such a large part of a teacher’s evaluation? We know that merit pay isn’t the answer and we should wholly reject Governor’s Cuomo’s proposal of merit pay for public school teachers.
Many problems still exist, but we are making progress and are on a united journey that must continue! I urge parents all the time to get involved. You must ask questions and find out more. You are your child’s best advocate. As parents, we already know how education reform is affecting our kids. They don’t enjoy school anymore; Some hate it; Some don’t even want to go anymore. Learning is no longer enjoyable. They’re stressed out because so much is expected of them. We’re stressed out because we can’t help them.
The workload is inappropriate and the things they love are reduced–valuable programs like art, music, library, gym, recess, unstructured free-play–all things that are not only outlets for fun and creativity, but are also necessary for our children’s personal well-being, brain development, social development, and among other things, high academic achievement.
Education has changed. There is something wrong when the joy of learning is replaced with training to pass a test. There are more tests today than ever before, and as a result our kids are beginning to feel like failures. A kindergartner I know came home upset with a graded pre-test during the first week of school and said to her mother, “Mommy, I guess I’m just not a good reader.” More recently, when confronted by a parent about a classroom-related issue, her daughter’s kindergarten teacher replied, “I’ll have to look into that. I wasn’t there. I was out of the room testing.”
This is just a fraction of the evils associated with the testing culture dominating our schools. But it’s not our teachers fault.
Teachers’ hands are tied with mandates and they’re being judged on our kids’ test scores. Pressure is high to push kids harder and faster. Teachers are under immense pressure to get their students proficient to a certain level, regardless of whether or not all of the children are ready, or what their individual strengths and learning styles might be. Testing is creating a one-size-fits-all environment because the stakes are so high. Our kids are treated like products on an assembly line. But, teachers are doing a great job despite this, and we need to let them know that we support them and that we don’t blame them for this mess.
But there is something else parents can do. We can opt our children out of high-stakes tests! Only 31% of NY students passed the state tests last year. We know that this doesn’t represent their true abilities. These tests reduce our children to numbers and data points. They only measure a fraction of what is really important, leaving out things like creativity, critical thinking, teamwork, and more. They consume valuable days of classroom instruction and promote an environment of stressful test prep for months prior to the testing dates. These tests are kept secret and the results are untimely. There is no useful information to help parents or teachers.
Opting out won’t hurt your child and it won’t hurt your school. An estimated 10,000 students refused the state tests last year even though schools were threatened with financial consequences for failure to comply. But this turned out to be more of a fear tactic than anything else. The situation is complicated, but there’s one thing you should know. Of the many schools across the state that had high numbers of opt-outs, not a single one reported any type of financial punishment. There is no harm in opting out.
But there is great harm in opting in as we perpetuate a test-driven type of education. The state tests are big ones–very high-stakes–but the testing goes beyond grades 3-8. There are other types of district-mandated assessments that are being used to unfairly judge teachers and drive instruction. As a parent, you have the right to know which tests your children will be facing and how they will be used.
Opting out can be confusing and there’s a lot to consider. Some tests are useful tools for teachers. Some help determine if your child has special learning needs. I’m not against useful and authentic forms of assessment that have real merit for the classroom teacher. But I am against any test that uses my child to unfairly judge teachers, or that collects his data, or that expects him to perform at a level that isn’t appropriate.
I won’t stand here and ask you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. My personal opt out stance is this: Opt out of anything that isn’t used solely to help the individual classroom teacher tailor instruction to your child’s particular learning needs, and that isn’t required for promotion or graduation, like the Regents. You can’t opt out of those.
Many have asked: “Isn’t it true that even if my child doesn’t take the test, he will still be subjected to test prep and inappropriate curriculum?” Yes… for now… but if enough of us take a stand and boycott these tests, the data becomes invalid, and the tests themselves carry little meaning. They might even go away if enough of us refuse! And that can have amazing consequences: Our teachers will gain much-needed autonomy; They can teach in ways that have our children’s best interests in mind; They no longer have to focus on the test; And a world of possibility for creative and authentic instruction opens up.
The Common Core deserves criticism. It was created without much input from real educators, and the corporate benefactors of all the testing and materials is very troublesome. Much of it is developmentally inappropriate, especially at the elementary grades. But it is all the testing it promotes that turns the Common Core into a monoculture of the mind. If we can remove the testing element, our teachers might actually be able to sift through and find the good while ignoring the bad. Then they can make it work for them and our children. That will never happen as long as so much is riding on test scores.
We cannot buy into all of this testing and let it become the norm. Imagine what teaching and learning will be like if we do. Imagine the door we will open to large corporate profits by companies who provide the tests, the prep materials, and the technological infrastructure to administer them. And just imagine the products and services we will be sold when our schools are unfairly proven to be institutions of failure based on the score of a high-stakes test.
The State Education Department isn’t listening to parents or teachers. They’re busy following a data-driven agenda. Let us band together and remove the source of that data by refusing to participate! If we do nothing, things are only going to get worse and our children will see even more tests.
There has been a recent concern that opting out is going to negatively affect your children’s teachers. First of all, it is untrue that students who refuse get an automatic 1 or 0. They get no score and are not used for accountability purposes according to NYSED’s SIRS manual. Secondly, there’s the fear that only top-performing students will opt out, leaving lows scores to affect teacher evaluations. But teachers are evaluated using “growth-scores” A teacher wants to show improvement in their students. The highest performing students plateau and have nowhere to go but straight across, so top performers do not help to show that growth. Finally, teachers have been reporting opt out from a wide range of student ability.
I’ve been in this movement for over a year now, and without a doubt, there is one thing that everyone, everywhere agrees on– Parents are the key to change! Our teachers’ hands might be tied, but ours are not. We have the right to direct the upbringing and education of our children, and we have the right to refuse this harmful testing culture. Please consider sending your refusal letter (nysape.org, tool#10) today and join us in ending the testing madness in our schools.