It Is Time

(An earlier version of this post was published last year. For a variety of reasons, I’ve updated it and am putting it out there again… because here we are again. If you’re looking for the text for the original post, you’ll find it here [scroll to the end].)

Plain and simple, I believe that the current standardized tests in ELA (English Language Arts) and Math, given annually from grades 3-8, are poorly designed and age-inappropriate and, ultimately, should be entirely revamped. I’ll go one step more: I think that a lot of families have no idea what’s happening.

Lemme break it down.

1. Testing isn’t going anywhere
Tests have been around since the dawn of schooling (and probably before that; you know that cave people were totally devising hunting “challenges” for one another). Standardized testing in the United States has been around since at least WWI. Pretty much anyone who’s lived in the USA over the last 40-50 years has heard about our “failing” education system, how we don’t “measure up” to other nations, etc. – so, clearly, something had to be done. Hence, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was passed which, in 2002, turned into No Child Left Behind where – I’m simplifying here – in order to receive federal funds, schools needed to prove that their students were showing academic improvement. That act was met with such vitriol, this past December, the Obama administration rejiggered it into the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Whether or not American schools are, indeed, “failing” is up for intense debate, but the fact remains that standardized tests have been around forever. They offer one small snapshot into one moment of a student’s academic year. Taken alongside the numerous other evaluations that are performed throughout any given school year, they can contribute a few brushstrokes to a child’s academic progress canvas. If these tests are well-written, developmentally appropriate, and accurate, they can also provide some sort of (small) basis with which to compare schools and teachers.

I’m down with standardized testing, as a general concept. I think most parents, teachers, and families are.

2. Common Core confusion
States adopted the Core standards with a very specific goal in mind: money. Not education reform, not improving student learning, not evaluating teaching practices or helping teachers to better their approaches, but cold, hard cash. See, there was this thing called Race To The Top (RTTT) that was rolled out in 2009-2010 that essentially said (I’m paraphrasing here ever so slightly): Hey, governing people! Want to earn more FUNDING for your states for education? THEN COME COMPETE FOR IT!! All you have to do is prove that you’re evaluating teachers more stringently, identify and turn around failing schools, promise you won’t prohibit the formation of more charter schools, adopt some common standards, and create some nifty data systems! The faster and better you do that, the faster you can earn MORE MONEY!!! It’s like a carnival up in here!

In theory, a set of shared standards isn’t such a bad idea. I like the Common Core benchmarks, broadly speaking. I like the idea of everyone in the US learning some basic, shared content. I like the thought that, if your kids changed schools or districts or moved across the country, you could count on them not being too far behind (or ahead) because everyone’s learning the same stuff at the same time, from poverty-stricken inner cities to wealthy suburbs.

In practice, because of the whole SHOW ME THE MONEY thing, the standards were written in a bit of a hurry – and, many people assert, they were written without any educator input. No, for real: according to many experts, not one single K-12 educator or child development expert was included in the creation of these standards. So they’re a bit off-base in terms of what’s developmentally appropriate for each grade level, by which I mean that they’re asking kids to know a heckuva lot more, and to use an awful lot of more complex thinking, than they’ve done before.

Which, in itself, might not be so bad — maybe even inspiring and hopeful — if the standards had been adopted at a reasonable pace with teachers being given adequate support and training to properly teach the new material.

But because there was money on the line, and because states had to act super fast if they wanted their share, they adopted Common Core with lightning speed. There was no gradual roll-out. No trying-and-seeing to determine if this set of standards was reasonable, achievable, or appropriate. No oversight by anyone in the field of education. Buckle up!

3. Many of the tests are poorly written
Even so – even with way more complex standards written by non-education people that were put into practice before anyone had a chance to review them – things might have been okay had the accompanying tests that were meant to measure performance been good, strong, accurate evaluations. But many of them are not.

For one thing, they – like the standards – are written by non-educators. (I understand that in New York state, the tests before the Common Core-based evaluations were also written by non-educators, so this is nothing new, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their authorship, the tests have been found to be riddled with errors. The test questions themselves, especially on the ELA portion of the exam, are often written at reading levels two to nine grades ahead (asking, say, third graders to read and evaluate passages that are actually appropriate for 5th- 12th graders).
Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 5.43.27 PM
These are taken from the PARCC ELA test…

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 5.43.48 PMYes. Our eight year-olds are probably familiar with the idea of “luring” someone into “a false sense of security.”

Many of the test questions are vague or even deliberately misleading, which makes choosing the answer more of a guessing game than a true demonstration of understanding.

4. The results don’t mean anything
Given that the tests are badly written, error-filled, and are developmentally inappropriate, it seems safe to say that their results don’t really mean much. Additionally, since student results aren’t provided until the end of summer (or even into the start of the next school year), the child’s teacher can’t use the scores to adjust his or her instruction to better serve those kiddos.

Sure, in theory, a teacher could look at the results from last year’s class, see a deficiency in a particular area, and think, “Oh, I guess I didn’t do a good job teaching Main Idea. I’d better work on that with this year’s batch of students.” In fact, I would bet that the vast majority of teachers try to do exactly that. But the information that teachers are given – at least in New York – is rather limited.

Teachers aren’t allowed to see the actual questions from the test, nor to know ones were answered incorrectly – they only receive a broad overview of concepts and standards and whole-class percentages rather than individual student breakdowns. Did last year’s students really not understand Main Idea, or were the Main Idea questions vague? Were they deliberately misleading? Were they “sample” questions that are thrown out there each year just to see how kids do on them? Were they just plain incorrect or filled with typos?

Even if the data was reliable – there’s one final catch: the passing score changes from year to year and is determined… AFTER THE TESTS HAVE BEEN SCORED. I wish I could say that I’m kidding, but I’m not. Movable passing scores!!

5. Teachers are more than just a (faulty) number
Here’s where things get really personal for me. Let’s just backtrack for a moment and pretend that the current tests are awesome. Let’s pretend that they are appropriate, accurate, and superbly written. Even if this were the case, I think we can all agree, still, that they represent merely one moment in a child’s education, several hours out of their lives. They don’t actually demonstrate all that children have learned – not even the best tests in the entire world – because most of what we call “learning” cannot be shown in a two-dimensional standardized test.

What standardized test results really show us is how well individual children tested on a particular day. And yet many states have decided that test scores do accurately demonstrate how well teachers are teaching, often counting the scores for up to 50% of a teacher’s evaluation.

And let’s not forget about the rest of the teachers. Tests are given at only at certain grade levels in certain subjects – meaning that that the majority of teachers do not teach these subjects/grades. K-2 teachers? 9-12 non-Regents class teachers? Gym, music, art? Science (students are tested in science but not in every grade), social studies/history, foreign language, library, computer, home ec, graphics…? 

And yet 50% of their evaluations are also based on test results. Based on the performance of students they may never have laid eyes on IN SUBJECTS AND GRADE LEVELS THAT THEY DO NOT TEACH.

This is fair, appropriate, or okay because… why?

6. Greed is a powerful motivator
For decades now, politicians have been talking about how American education is failing. Thus, politicians find it pretty easy to gain financial backers for education reform. After all, once a school is determined to not pass muster, something must be done — new curricula, new textbooks, new resources.

One of the largest supporters of Common Core is Bill Gates – yes, that Bill Gates – who has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into its adoption. While I believe that Bill Gates genuinely wants to help, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Microsoft and Pearson – one of the largest producers of Common Core materials – have banded together to get additional Microsoft resources into schools.

Many people have taken issue with the fact that companies such as Pearson [which authored a) the Common Core standards, b) the great majority of the current Common Core tests, c) the “modules” of instructional materials that are sold to schools to prepare students for said tests, d) and – as of 2015 – the teacher certification examinations in eighteen states] is a business company, not a company run by education or child development professionals. (I acknowledge that pre-Common Core, tests were still written by contracted, outside companies; that still doesn’t make it right.)

That would be galling enough, but even more maddening is that Pearson is positively rolling in the money it is making off of its materials. Since Common Core was adopted so quickly, school districts had to act fast to provide their teachers with adequate curricula resources. Who better to provide that than the author of the Common Core standards? Enter the Pearson instruction modules! Need additional support materials? Pearson’s got those, too!

7. Teacher demoralization
I’m just going to put it bluntly: because of all of this Common Core testing and the hoopla surrounding it, many of our teachers* feel like crap. They have been told, in no uncertain terms, that the jobs they were doing weren’t good enough. No matter how well-liked they were, how many kids graduated from their classes, how many years they’d been teaching, how many children they taught to read or how to multiply, how many hours they stayed after school, how many hungry children they fed, how many concerts they attended… it wasn’t enough. They have to change, fast. And if they don’t? Their very jobs are at stake.

All of the teachers I know – the ones for whom I sub, the ones with whom I sub, the ones with whom I went to college, the ones with whom I used to teach, the ones who teach my own children, or the ones I’ve met along the way by happenstance – have said, unequivocally, how much they love teaching. They love their students. They are fiercely proud to be educators. But it is getting hard – really hard – for many of them to continue. You hear talk of those who are seriously considering leaving the classroom because they can no longer teach; now, they have to teach these modules, teach to the test, jump through hoop after hoop. It’s exhausting and maddening.

Losing our teachers would, obviously, be a tremendous problem; that problem is compounded by the fact that there has been a steep decline in the number of new teachers being certified in recent years. Even those who do decide to enter the profession don’t stick around for long.

To be sure, teachers have often felt under-appreciated, misunderstood, and underpaid, but rarely has their ability to do their job been so strongly questioned. Never have they been so micromanaged. We are losing some of our best teachers. We aren’t getting enough new ones. This is happening right now, all across the country, and it is terrifying.

(*Obviously, I realize that I’m speaking in very broad terms here. I have not interviewed every teacher in the nation. But I am certain that the teachers with whom I have spoken – and this is a helluva lot of teachers – have expressed their dejection, sadness, and frustration.)

8. How do we get an objective measure?
Many people who acknowledge the shortcomings of these particular tests maintain that we need them because we need some objective measure of how our kids are doing in school. We need some way to compare teachers, schools, and performance, from rural West Virginia to suburban Idaho to inner-city Houston. We need to be able to determine teacher growth and student success. Kids from the most poverty-riddled communities deserve access to the same quality education as their most affluent peers.

I hear that. I absolutely believe that all children deserve a quality education; the disparity is, indeed, unfair. I also think it would be great to, say, move across the country and be able to glean, at a glance, how a school or district compares to another.

But here’s the thing: I think we’re looking for something that doesn’t exist – not because we haven’t figured out how to do it, but because it’s just not possible. Maybe education and learning aren’t things that can be measured any more than a musical performance can be measured. Maybe teacher growth and student success aren’t confined to numbers. Maybe a one-size-fits-all assessment works nicely for obtaining a driver’s license but not so well for determining whether or not fifth graders can identify subplot or if their teachers are doing their jobs. Test scores do not indicate success or failure; they are merely numbers.

9. Quite whining! How about some solutions or ideas?!
I’m not saying that we should give up. I’m saying I think we need to – dramatically – change our approach to how we evaluate education, students, and teachers. In my Magic Wand World, I’d take a (lot of) page(s) out of Finland’s book (it is well-acknowledged that Finnish students perform among best in the world at international exams) and our teachers would be as well-respected as as well paid as our doctors.

Since it’s unlikely that we’re going to adopt too many of Finland’s ideas, I suggest that we work with what we already have to reconfigure our view of success.

  • We should de-couple the current standardized tests from teacher evaluations, period.
  • We can keep the Common Core – as I said, I like those standards – but only as a portion of what each child should learn; we need to leave the rest up to individual states, districts, schools, and teachers.
  • We should give teachers several years to become familiar with the Core standards so that they can rework their lesson plans, see where there may be deficiencies, and take it from there.
  • Standardized tests aren’t going anywhere (in the USA), but we should have new, fair, developmentally appropriate tests that have been written by educators from across the K-12 spectrum.
  • Those tests’ scores should come back before the school year is over so that the students’ current teachers can use the data to inform their instruction.
  • And then those numbers should be just one of many other things that combine together to form our opinions of teacher success and student learning. Let’s factor attendance into the equation. Graduation rates. The percentage of high school graduates who go onto college. Post-graduate success. AP exams – how many are given? What are the scores? Teacher-student ratio. Teacher retention; how many are still teaching there after three years? Five? Ten? Extra-curricular activities. Class sizes. Poverty levels. Parent involvement. Principal and superintendent evaluations. Student portfolios. Additional test scores.

Education “success” cannot be measured by any one, single thing. I will happily sing you the praises of my daughters’ elementary school, which I adore, but none of those praises – from small class sizes to close relationships with other families to the devotion of the teachers to their annual Halloween parade – has anything to do with test scores.

10. Become informed… and then do something
I’m not really the “take a stand” type. More typically, I talk and think a lot. I write letters, I sign petitions, I discuss with family and friends. With this, it was different. I’d been talking, for years. I’d been signing petitions. I’d been writing letters, dozens of them, from the governor to my locally elected officials.

Finally, last year, it became clear to me: talking, thinking, letter- writing, and petition-signing weren’t working. Our legislators weren’t listening. And in the meantime, our children and teachers were suffering.

Enough was enough. And so, after much research and consideration (and after having participated the year before), our 4th grader opted out of the tests. She was extremely nervous about taking them – and we were extremely upset that her teachers were being evaluated based on student scores on poorly-designed tests – so it seemed like an appropriate solution. Turns out, many, many parents and children in New York state came to the same conclusion. As I wrote last year:

To paraphrase the incomparable Maya Angelou, when you know better, you do better. Parents and teachers are speaking up. We are knowing better. I hope, as our voices swell – whether our children take the tests or refuse them – that our politicians will hear us and that, some day, they will do better, too.

You know what? Our New York legislators heard us. BY GOSH, THEY HEARD US! Our voices swelled and our message was clear: This situation needs to change. And so the change has begun. Test scores are no longer being used to evaluate New York teachers (CAN I GET AN AMEN!). Students may now take as much time as they need to complete the exams. As of next year, Pearson will no longer be writing the tests or curricular materials. NEW YORK IS TRYING TO DO BETTER.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Because of the changes that have been made, my husband and I did not feel as strongly about refusing the testing this year, instead leaving the decision to our daughters (after sharing the above information with them, to the degree that they can understand it). Our oldest, again, has opted out; her younger sister is taking them. We feel very comfortable being a house divided.

No, the tests aren’t perfect (then again, what is?). With the exception of tying them to teacher evaluations, everything else remains (essentially) the same, so there remains (much) work to be done. (While I appreciate the removal of the time limit, it seems that some students are taking up to 6 hours per day to finish their tests… which is not exactly “doing better”…) Still, I acknowledge and greatly appreciate that changes are being made. It’s a step in the right direction.

Some analysts and educators argue that high-stakes tests should be banned, period. Others claim that the tests are successful. Although they’re reaching different conclusions, they’re doing so after having thoroughly done their homework (a pun!).

And that is what I encourage everyone to do: learn more, then go from there. Find out who writes the tests in your state and how teachers are asked to teach the material. Read up on others’ opinions about how valid and appropriate the tests are. Discover when the test results are returned, what information the teachers and schools receive, and how they apply that information. Learn whether or not your child’s educators are evaluated based on test scores. Inquire about what your options are.

Then, if you feel that the tests are not measuring up, ask for better. If you feel like they’re cutting muster, speak up! Maybe that looks like writing letters. Maybe it’s signing petitions. Maybe it’s attending town hall meetings. Maybe it’s talking with neighbors and teachers and administrators. Maybe it’s opting out. Maybe it’s opting in. Maybe it’s a little of everything and a lot of other things, too.

No matter how you feel about Common Core and the state tests, I think we can all agree that our nation’s children deserve awesome. Let’s work together to be thoughtful, committed citizens. Let’s help our children receive the awesome they deserve. Heck – let’s change the world.

 

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127 thoughts on “It Is Time

  1. Hmmm. While there is much to consider here, I find myself scratching my head at the idea that “not one single K-12 educator or child development expert was included in the creation of these standards.” A typical fact-check source (and there are several corroborating reports, this one is the most detailed I’ve run across) like http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2013/oct/21/public-comments-common-core-hearing/teachers-were-not-involved-developing-common-core-/ would seem to indicate otherwise.

    Thoughts?

    • Interesting!
      Every other source I’ve found states the opposite, but it’s certainly possible they are all incorrect.

      If what your source says is true, that’s a comforting thought. The rest of this mess remains the same, but it would be nice if educators were involved in the standards, to be sure!
      Thanks for your comment!

      • Yeah, it’s untangling a hairball trying to determine which ones are accurate and which ones aren’t. I’m not 100% confident that Politifact has the right answer, but I’ve generally found that they do (and more importantly, *can back up*) their research. Many of the claims to the contrary use nearly the exact same wording (Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V is *so* easy, after all), so I consider them to be suspect until/unless I manage to find the “original” such claim. Preferably with citations and evidence of research…

      • Indeed! I was actually basing my statements on information that I’ve been given by individuals who I trust deeply — principals and a superintendent — although I then researched their claims on my own and provided those resources in the post. With that said, the information you’ve provided is really intriguing — and so I’ve amended a couple of sentences in the post to indicate that it is not a certainty that the standards were written by non-educators. I’ve also included a hyper-link to the PolitiFact article that you referenced.
        Thanks for your input! I appreciate it!

      • A close reading of the Politifact article shows that teachers were involved in review, not writing. There is much discussion that the CCSS are not appropriate at the early childhood level. How much was changed by this review? I do think everyone should consider this- The CCSS is copyrighted and can’t be changed. If the purpose of all this is better education, not $, why would that be so?

  2. I think you are spot on in every way! I agree totally! I do, however, have one question that no one seems to be able to answer for me. I opted my kids out of ELA and math, but what am I to do with 4th grade science. So many people say it is common core aligned but created by teachers and not Pearson and it’s ok to take this test. What’s your opinion?

    • Hi Lisa! I have heard (but not independently verified) that the Science tests were, in fact, written by Science teachers, so one would hope that the test questions are more fair and developmentally appropriate. With that said, given that they’re still attached to teachers’ APPR, and given that my husband and I still do not feel that student test scores should be used to evaluate teachers (as I mentioned in the blog), we have had our daughter refuse the Science tests as well. Next year, if the tests are de-coupled from evaluations (fingers crossed!), we will revisit; if this is the case when our other daughter is in 4th grade, we would likely have her take the exam.

      I still believe that every family needs to do what’s right for them; refusing the tests might not be right for you!
      Best of luck to your family!

  3. Thanks for the informative post.

    You mention how delayed and vague the feedback is from the exams. That prompts me to urge that schools use daily immediate feedback on homework.

    In addition to commercial systems for this purpose, there is a free system, ASSISTments, available from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Here is a link:
    http://www.aboutus.assistments.org/

    Another link where you can look for users near you:
    http://www.aboutus.assistments.org/map-of-assistments-users.php

  4. I agree with the opt-out and I have opted my kids out of testing this year. However, I found your blog post to be biased and misleading. For example, you say that the tests are riddled with mistakes and for an example, you show a cover of the Colorado test for Social Studies. There is no Social Studies Common Core test. Common Core only has standards for English and Math. It makes me doubt a lot of other things you have to say.

    • Yes, that is – supposedly – the cover for the Colorado Social Studies test (as I mentioned in the post, I tried to verify the veracity of the photo and was unable to fully do so, although I do post the link from where I found the photo).
      http://www.cde.state.co.us/assessment/cmasproceduresmanual-0
      The Social Studies standardized tests are given in Colorado in grades 4 and 7; their results have also been called into question, like the Reading and Math results.
      http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_26808112/colorado-students-score-poorly-new-social-studies-science

      Indeed, they are not Math and Reading; I never said they were… They are, however, written by Pearson – the same company that has come under fire for writing the Core standards, the majority of the state tests, the testing materials, and teacher certification exams. That was the purpose for including it in the blog (in addition to adding a bit of humor; a STUDE is a pretty funny idea…).
      I can see, however, that including it with the Math and Reading discussion may have caused confusion; I have now moved the photo and the link to the section that discusses Pearson, so the connection is clear.

      If you’d like to verify the other statements that are made in the blog, I invite you to visit the other hyper-links that have been included. Best of luck to you.

  5. I was very impressed with your ability to so succinctly describe all of the various issues currently impacting our educational system. I have been trying to explain the problems to people and your article does it perfectly. I live in New York and am so unhappy with the direction that our schools are being forced to turn. I hope that the opt out movement will help the governor to see that people are not willing to sit back and accept his agenda. On a side note, we wanted to opt out our 6th grade son (me in particular) but he really wanted to take the tests so we felt we couldn’t say no. He said they were very hard and the paragraphs were difficult to read (which matches a lot of what I have read about this particular version of the test). Thanks for posting!

  6. Well done. Are you in Florida? It is a real mess here. Having trouble locating parents who will speak up, make calls, complain. I have had many convos and meetings with school/administration/ etc. and they all claim to know nothing about refusing/opting out. I am the “first” one to ever bring it up. YEAH RIGHT?!

    • Thanks for reading. 🙂
      I’m in New York. There are lots of online organizations and groups you can join; I’m sure that some of them have information regarding Florida! You’re definitely not the only one!

  7. From an educational standpoint, these tests appear to be a joke and no teacher should have his/her evaluation connected to them. I agree that the “concept” is sound but if quality education was the true motivation, there should have been much more time and qualified effort put into their development. Why the rush? Personally, I find a strong “motive” cloaked in the financial gain aspect of ineffectiveness = governmental intrusion (the turn around expert) = Charter School establishment = private funding etc. which I find reprehensible. Now you have teachers not educating but instructing students on how to pass conceptual “exams”! This country’s future is, as always, it’s children and children who can’t do simple math (watch a teen try to compute your change at the store) or have any idea how to use proper grammar or have basic knowledge of American history do not represent a promising future. Once again we’re looking at a major issue being addressed without the use of “basic common sense”, a necessary life skill that, for some reason, appears to be rapidly fading away from our techno society! I applaud your excellent post and honestly pray that it may contribute to a much needed awakening before it’s too late!

  8. Found your blog very informative, and I strongly agree with what you said. I also have my education degree, and when I think about the time, effort and money so I could become and educator makes me frustrated because, now some people with money put forth ideas of how they can make more money all the while they have no educational background; all at the cost of our children! We always hear how our country is behind in academics, and I don’t see how rearranging the curriculum is going to better educate our children. It is only confusing them; let a group of educated educators sit down and have a conversation about how we can help our students become better and more proficient. Common core, as it stands now, is only confusing and hindering the learning of our students. Why take something and try and reinvent it? E.g. Algebra has been taught in a very similar fashion for a long time; you have your standard formula and input the numbers to solve the equation/problem. Now someone comes up with a new (common core) way, that confuses more than it helps teach. I agree we should have common standards from state to state, so children are learning the same material at the same grade level – that is a GREAT IDEA! But not to have educators developing this is just absurd.

    When how think about how my parents were educated 40 to 50 years ago, I see that they have a strong language base, history base, math base. They are well round and educated – that is how we should teach in schools and at home. The way they did 40 to 50 years ago.

    I found this your tube video to be very informative. It is about common core, it is called building the machine. TAKE THE TIME TO WATCH. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjxBClx01jc

  9. Pingback: Versatile Blogger Award | the learning, earning and fitness mama

    • Wow – thanks so much! I want to “accept” properly, so it may take me a bit to get my ducks in a row, but once I do I’ll give you a shout out, for sure! 🙂

  10. Thank you for informing me of the facts. All I hear on the news and from other parents is that the tests are unfair, and now I know the reasons why. You have helped me tremendously and opened my eyes.

  11. Pingback: What I Learned from the New York State Tests | Kate Cohen

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  13. I am so confused by this article. It popped up on my “On this day” facebook memories. I read the entire article carefully and it was full of information, including the tests being far above age level and full of errors and misleading questions. I read about the push for charter schools and the money hungry billionairs who own Pearson. I read about how educators need to be more involved and that the tests are meaningless. Then I reached the end. How can you write all of this and then flip flop? They are dangling false hope and bullying districts. Are you aware of the pressure placed on the districts to test? Have you read about the threats and the bribes? Have you seen that 70% of students fail these tests? Do you know that a child with a disability (possibly reading at a 2nd grade level but a 6th grader in school) must test at the level of their grade? Do you know thier IEP is ignored, and the test cannot be read to them? What if they are dislexic? Did you know that our school had less than 10 students with disabilities test, but the state has designated us a focus district due to our subcatagory of SWD (students with disabilities) scoring poorly on this BS test? 3 SED’s tested in 7th/8th grade. Three. Two of them do not attend school in our building. We are a focus district for the next 2 years and we are under very close watch to spend money making improvements that our school does not need. We were told we cannot be removed from this designation unless 95% test. Our Opt Out numbers were one of the highest in NY last year. Our parents are informed. Our refusal rates were still very high this year. Why? Because testing got us in this mess and refusal is the only weapon we have. As a vocal advocate, I beg you to keep reasearching and correct this article. Questar’s test will not be used until 2018. Until then, we are still using Pearson. Questar’s contract is costing even more money than Pearson’s……i think about $100,000 more but not positive on this number. Schools are going to lose funding, even have to pay back funding from prior years, if the state does not approve their new evaluation plan that each school must submit. (I am fuzzy on this but I know our board is working on something and I know they are very nervous about it. I am trying to understand it but I know it is because of the BS law from last year…..50% based on test scores and 35% based on an independent evaluator. You seem like a smart, passionate, and educated individual. Please keep researching. The fight rages on and we need strong warriers to stay for the next battle.

    • Thanks for commenting and for asking so many insightful questions. I’ll do my best to answer them.
      Yes, I’m aware of the pressure placed on districts to test, as well as the threats and bribes. They’re all absurd (although I cannot find solid “proof” of them so I did not link to stories about that; if you have any, I’d be happy to).
      Yes, I’ve seen that 70% of students fail the NY State tests (as I mentioned, that passing rate was 30% — and was predicted *before* the tests). Craziness.
      Yes, I’m aware of the ridiculous requirements that all students take the same tests, regardless of IEPs (which are ignored), learning disabilities, etc. Not okay.

      No, I was not aware of your specific funding issues or that your district has been designated one to watch. That’s nuts, and I’m truly sorry. I hope they’ll (the state) get their act together.

      We have had several districts locally where the opt-out rate was very high last year – WELL over the 5% rate. Although they were threatened with loss of funding, that never came to pass (thankfully). To quote our local paper, the Democrat and Chronicle, “Like last year, the federal government has warned of funding cuts for districts where the opt-out rate exceeds 5 percent. It did not come to pass last year and seems unlikely to happen this year, considering the eroding political support for the current system of student and teacher evaluation.”

      You can read the entire article about Rochester-area schools, opting out, and funding, here: http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2016/04/05/monroe-county-opt-out-refusal-state-tests-fairport/82646428/

      I am definitely aware of Questar taking over the testing process, although not until 2018 (as I mentioned in the blog).

      And yes, last year the teacher evaluations based on 50% test scores and 35% independent evaluator were indeed BS. Since the law has changed this year, I’m not sure how teachers will be evaluated in NY state – and I agree that this is something to be concerned about – but I’m grateful that, at least, they have decoupled test scores from evaluations. I think that decision was based on political neck-saving, but nevertheless, I’m grateful.

      As for the conclusion that my husband and I’ve drawn for our own family… That’s been a year in the making. Last year, we had only one daughter taking the tests. She was exceedingly anxious about them, and in addition to them being junk *and* tied to teacher evaluations, taking them seemed to actually be detrimental to her well-being. For those reasons, and because we could, we opted her out.

      This year, we have a second daughter taking the tests. Not only was she *not* anxious… she was *thrilled* to have the opportunity to be evaluated. This kid loves assessments (I’m not joking; it’s simply who she is). In addition to the tests no longer counting toward teacher evaluations, in our district, they also do not count – in any way – for student evaluation or placement. They are merely one (very imperfect) snapshot of how she tests on a given day. We acknowledge them as exactly that and nothing more. The scores mean nothing to us or the district. Are they a waste of time, then? Sure. But our daughter *wanted* to participate, even knowing that they were poorly worded, aimed toward higher grade levels, etc. We spoke to many teachers this year; although they all thought the tests were just as ridiculous as ever, very few were as outraged about them as they were last year. That, alone, spoke volumes to us. In the end… They weren’t being used to evaluate anyone. They’re meaningless. Our kid wanted to take them. We let her. I don’t see this as a flip-flop. I see it as carefully researching our options, understanding what’s happening and acknowledging it’s ridiculous, and then listening to our gut and doing what’s best for our specific, unique children.

      Additionally, as I wrote in the original post: “No matter how strongly Nick and I felt (as you might guess, it’s pretty strongly…), we would never have forced our girls to refuse the tests if they wanted to take them.” It would be exceedingly duplicitous, then, for us to force our daughter to opt out when she so wanted to participate. (Talk about a flip flop!)

      Over the past year, I’ve had a bit of a moral compass shift. On many issues, from vaccines to presidential candidates to gay rights to racial tensions to eating organic to double- or single-spacing to state testing, I was convinced that, because I had so arduously educated myself on each topic, the conclusion I had drawn was the right one. It was easy to convince myself that the reason people were spouting such seemingly-ignorant opinions was that they simply didn’t know any better. If they only educated themselves, they, too would reach the same conclusions as I. It came as quite a shock, then, when I would come across a friend or family member – someone I knew well, respected, and felt, to my core, was a good and intelligent person – who disagreed. They researched! They KNEW. How could they come to a different conclusion??

      I finally realized that it is, indeed, possible for good, smart, well-educated people to read the very same information, to be shown the exact same facts, and to not agree on what should happen next (or even what has happened before). This realization has not been entirely pleasant, but I can say without doubt that it has truly been a personal revolution that has changed who I am and how I see the world.

      After the publication of the post last year, I heard from educators and parents around the country about how testing was done in their state. In some places, students didn’t have the choice to opt out, period — so encouraging them to do so, or shaming parents for not doing so, made no sense. In others, teacher evaluations were not as strongly tied to test scores; so, again, actively encouraging people to protest this issue simply didn’t fly. I also heard from and talked with numerous parents across the country who *did* choose to have their kids take the tests, despite what I saw as “evidence” to the contrary… and, damn it, their reasons actually made sense. D’OH!!

      Since this particular post was so widely-read and shared a year ago, I thought that, perhaps, it might start circulating again this testing season. As I read through the original post, I realized that some of it was no longer accurate for 2016. I had a lot of people call me out for (what they saw as) inaccuracies in the original post; although I was able to provide documentation for all of my claims, I nevertheless wanted the post to be current in case it made the rounds again. Additionally, I wanted it to apply as broadly as possible, rather than mostly to New York state. For those reasons, I updated the post. Reading your comment, however, has made me understand that I should still keep a record of the original post (where I more strongly denounced the testing and encouraged people to opt out) on the blog. You’ll now find a link to it within the post and on my site.

      I agree that the fight rages on. We *need* to win this because our children, our teachers, and we, as a society, deserve better.
      To do that, I continue to believe – as I said in the post – that our best “weapon” is educating ourselves on what’s actually happening in our own states. From there, the conclusions and courses of battle may look different for each family… but nothing will change if we don’t first know what’s going on.

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