Saturday, August 24, 2013

Have Our Children Failed, Or Have the Tests Failed Our Children?

Letter to the Editor from SUNY New Paltz Professor Nancy Schiedewind
New Paltz Times, August 22nd, 2013

    Last week the NYS Education Department released the results of the recent Common Core tests for grades 3-8, highlighting the decreased passing rates. However, rather than interpreting the scores to mean that student learning has suddenly plummeted, I see it as part of the continued manipulation of test scores by educational leaders in Albany. Or, if after 15 years of “reform-through-testing” most of our students are indeed failing, hasn’t the testing movement itself failed?

    Education Commissioner John King is leading us down the wrong path, harming children, their families, and teachers. Instead of more testing, the Commissioner and Board of Regents should follow the examples of more successful countries, such as Finland, and as recommended by educational research.         

    More and harder tests do not work. In fact, results from the more reliable National Assessment for Educational Progress exams reveal that New York State has made little progress over the last 15 years. Instead of more standardized curriculum and tests, teachers need support to create challenging curriculum designed to build on students’ abilities and interests.

     Students need to learn the skills necessary to become responsible workers and active citizens. This includes complex skills like critical thinking, writing and speaking, problem solving, and how to apply these skills to the real world. Recent research shows that skills that develop students’ social and emotional learning better prepare students for careers than success on high stakes tests.    
   Rather than losing valuable instructional time to excessive test preparation, schools should assess student growth through regular assessment of each student’s work. Such a sensible approach to assessment could save school districts millions of dollars. Race to the Top funding has not provided schools districts with adequate funding for these tests. The millions of dollars for testing paid to corporations like Pearson could rather be used to restore cuts to educational and after-school programs that our school districts want and deserve.

    To learn more about how the tests are failing our children go to the home page of
Nancy Schniedewind

Education Advocacy Groups from across New York Unite to form NYS Allies for Public Education

August 24, 2013 at 8:50am

For Immediate Release: August 23, 2013
For more information contact:  
Eric Mihelbergel (716) 553-1123;  Lisa Rudley (917) 414-9190; 

Education Advocacy Groups from across New York Unite to form NYS Allies for Public Education and plan protest at Commissioner King’s Visit to Rochester

New York Education Commissioner John King will be visiting Rochester’s School of the Arts on Wednesday, August 28th. Although his visit is not open to the public, members of a newly formed coalition of parents, educators and students called New York State Allies for Public Education [NYSAPE] plan to make their opposition to excessive tests and data sharing known by protesting outside of the school at 1pm.

NYSAPE includes groups from the following regions:
NYC: Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), Save Our Schools, Stop Common Core in NYS, Change the Stakes, Class Size Matters, ParentVoicesNY, Time Out From Testing, Edu4
Long Island: Long Island Opt Out Info, Long Island Parents for Education
Western New York: Western New Yorkers for Public Education, Concerned Teachers of Chautauqua County, East Aurora Supporters of Public Education, Hamburg Parents for QUALITY Public Education, Ken-Ton Parents Against Excessive Testing, Lancaster Central School District Info on Standardized Testing, NYS Stop Testing, O.P. Parents Against Excessive Testing, Partnership for Smarter Schools , Rush Henrietta Parents Against Excessive Standardized Testing, Williamsville Parents for Meaningful Assessment , Coalition for Justice in Education
Central New York: New York State Foundations of Education Association Opt Out of State Standardized Tests - New York (Opt Out NY)
Oneonta Area for Public Education
Adirondack Region: Opt Out Staab, Saranac Lake Parent Faculty Education Alliance
Hudson Valley: Heads Down-Thumbs Up, Ossining Citizens For Schools,
Parents For Change - Warwick, NY, Re-Thinking Testing Mid-Hudson Region
Student test scores on the state standardized exams plummeted this year: only 31% of students passed these tests.  Parents throughout the state are outraged and convinced that Commissioner King set the passing scores on these exams to convince them that their children and schools are failing to help him impose his damaging agenda.   Last weekend, nearly 2,000 parents and teachers, including members of NYSAPE, attended a protest rally in Long Island, expressing their opposition to these unfair and invalid exams.

Organizations from every region of the state have now joined forces to oppose these exams, the time and money spent preparing, giving and scoring them, and the invalid results, which one Long Island superintendent recently said were so unreliable he would ignore them.

According to Long Island Principal Carol Burris, author of the New York Principal’s Letter and recent recipient of New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year award, “Excessive testing is the wrong strategy to improve schools and bring all students to college and career readiness.  This year's tests, which caused the achievement gap to widen, and the percentage of students labeled "below basic" to balloon, will only discourage our students and push them into remedial services that they do not need, at taxpayer expense. It's time to end these wrong-headed strategies before we lose a generation of students.”

 “High-stakes tests are resulting in substantial negative educational and fiscal impacts: School districts are diverting money to pay for systems of testing and scoring, a cost burden that is pushed to local taxpayers as the portion of school budgets funded by the state continues to be well below historical levels.” Says KT Tobin, a former vice president of the New Paltz School board and a founding  member of NYSAPE ally ReThinking Testing, Mid Hudson Region.

Chris Cerrone an educator, parent and member of NYSAPE ally Western New Yorkers for Public Education says, "Parents have the power to prevent damage to our children's education from high-stakes assessments. By uniting grassroots groups from around New York we can fight the impact of over-testing."  According to Tim Farley, an Albany area resident and Principal, “Now is the time to take our schools back from corporate interests!” and as Dr. Joseph Rella, Superintendent of Comsewogue School District says, "Stop it, fix it, or scrap it!"

According to Nancy Cauthen of the NYC based parent and educator group Change the Stakes, “The efforts of Change the Stakes (CTS) have been greatly strengthened by learning from and with like-minded groups across the state. Last spring, the opt-out movements in Western New York and Long Island exploded with activity, and groups across the state benefited from the research they did as well as the excitement and energy they generated. CTS is thrilled to formalize this kind of collaboration by being part of NYS Allies for Public Education."

Lisa Rudley, President of Ossining Citizens For Schools said, “The state is overreaching and our rights are being trampled on and now there is a divisive campaign to “contain” parents, educators and community members.  We are joining forces across the state to protect authentic public education and our children’s privacy. Together NYSAPE Allies are a strong block of very concerned stakeholders committed to informing parents of excessive testing and inappropriate sharing of student data to third party vendors without parental consent.  “

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters in NYC said, “Parents throughout the state were outraged when they learned last year that their children’s most sensitive, personal information would be shared with a corporation called inBloom Inc. and for-profit vendors, without their consent.  Thousands of them contacted Commissioner King to protest and asking to opt out, but he refused to acknowledge their wishes.  Two bills that would have prevented the state’s plan were passed by the Assembly in June.  Five states have now pulled out of inBloom because of the risk to student privacy.  Working together with NYSAPE and other parents throughout the state, we are intent on fighting to make sure that the State Education Department respects our rights and protects our children’s privacy and safety, by pulling out of inBloom as well.”

Bianca Tanis, a Hudson Valley parent said, “As a parent of a child with special needs, I am distressed by the state’s plan to share sensitive educational data, data that may include information pertaining to a student’s disability. This is a violation of a child’s dignity and right to privacy and may cause harm to our children. As parents, we insist on the right to say no.”

“Our teachers and schools are misrepresented as failing. We demand that the Commissioner, Chancellor and Regents support educators and communities in the hard work of creating and implementing meaningful curricula and assessments.” said David Hursh, a member of NYSAPE and a Professor at the University of Rochester. Eric Mihelbergel, a parent from Buffalo, NY says, "Public education is about teaching our children, not about teaching a test to our children. We must spend our time and money on our children, not on corporate and political interests."

NYSAPE urges parents and concerned community members to become an ally, join them on Facebook, and sign the NYSAPE petition against excessive testing and data collection. Parents and educator members of NYSAPE will raise their voices in support of public education at 1pm at the School of the Arts, 45 Prince Street, Rochester, NY 14607. Please visit for complete details.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Send the Scores Back!

Why are the NYS ELA and Math Scores Invalid?

  * Flawed test construction:

  • Tests were too long; even high achieving students did not finish
  • Vague questions
  • Passages from test maker Pearson’s text books used, thus giving some students an advantage

* Formula used to determine “cut scores” is flawed and not supported by scientific research:     (“cut scores” are the cut-off scores for determining proficiency)

  • Cut scores for the assessments were not developed until AFTER the tests were administered and scored. THIS SUGGESTS THAT THE DATA IS HIGHLY VULNERABLE TO MANIPULATION.

  • NYSED identified the top 8-20th % scores on the NAEP, SAT and PSAT and used these scores to work backwards and determine the scores a child must receive on state assessments in grades 3-8 to eventually meet these benchmarks.  In other words, in order to be proficient on a NYS test, ALL students must achieve scores comparable to the top 8-20% of students in the country. This is too high and sets children up for failure.

  • Research that shows that high scores on these tests are not effective indicators of performance in college. High school grades are in fact a better indicator of college performance.

  • Tests like the NAEP and the SAT are not curriculum measures and therefore, are not appropriate for determining cut scores on the NYS ELA and Math tests.

*No oversight or transparency in scoring or test construction:

  • The tests were not and will not be made available in their entirety for public inspection, and were destroyed after being scored and sent back to the state.

  • Teachers involved in scoring the tests and those hired to make recommendations to the Commissioner of Education regarding the formulation of cut scores were made to sign non-disclosure agreements.

* Not designed to improve student learning

  • Due to test secrecy and the fact that scores are received after the school year has ended, there is no opportunity for teachers to review the tests and provide students with extra support in areas of weakness.

*Test scores vary too much to be considered valid:

  • Over the past seven years, proficiency scores on the NY math and ELA have been characterized more than once by fluctuations of almost 30 points. When scores vary this widely, the reliability of the data is questionable.

Don't Trust the Data!

Monday, August 12, 2013

A New York State Principal Reacts to Misleading Test Scores

Katie Zahedi is principal in Red Hook, New York. 

What the public may not understand in the midst of today’s controversy is that when a test yields 80% (of a particular cohort) of students passing over a 5 year span, and scores suddenly drop to below a 35% passing rate, that the problem is probably unrelated to student performance. In fact, the last two years of tests produced by the NYSED have been rife with mistakes, missing tables needed for computation, and confusing and misleading questions....

Sunday, August 11, 2013

"I am tired of people who expose our students to accountability and mandates that they would never expose their own children to all because they are out to prove that somehow we are failing. It's not our public education system that failed us this's our state education department that failed us."

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Carol Burris provides an assessment of what the newly released test scores REALLY mean.

By Carol Burris

The release of New York Common Core tests scores brings to mind the opening of Charles Dickens’s “Hard Times”:
With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature and tell you what it comes to…
This is setting the stage for Chapter 2, entitled “Murdering the Innocents.” School Master Gradgrind, obsessed with data and facts, humiliates “Girl number 20” who cannot “define a horse.”  The humiliated young girl is quickly measured and done, deemed to be “possessed of no facts.”  In Gradgrind’s class, each child is a numbered vessel into which knowledge must be poured — faster and more efficiently from the pitcher of fear.

The chapter is a chilling and uncanny allegory for the data-driven, test-obsessed reforms that are now overwhelming our schools. This week, New York’s “hard times” measures were made public. There was no surprise when the new definition of “proficiency” was about 30 points below the old one. That’s what the system was designed to do. Yet the new, imperious Gradgrinds will predictably use the results as the rationale to propel their reforms. They have built their careers, reputations and, in some cases, their fortunes, coming up with inventive ways to show public school teachers as inept and to present the vast majority of public school students as below par.

While the fingers point and the blame is assigned, “The Innocents” are forgotten.  New York’s students labored through days of testing so that the ignorance of the “number 20s” could be exposed for all to see.  The question is: To what end?

Their failure, of course, was preordained. This drop was predicted by Deputy Commissioner Ken Slentz in March before any bubble was filled and by Commissioner John King who declared that scores would “likely drop by 30 points” before the last test was sealed in its packet.  If a teacher in my school told me that he designed a test that was so hard that the passing rate would drop by 30 points and the majority of his students would fail, I would walk him to the door.

The rationale here is muddled at best, but the detriments are obvious. For instance, young students in New York State who are developing as they should will be placed in remedial services, forgoing enrichment in the arts because they are a “2” and thus below the new proficiency level. That is where the vast majority of students fall on the new scales — below proficiency and off the “road to college readiness.”  Students, who in reality may not need support will be sorted into special education or “response to intervention” services.  Parents will worry for their children’s future. The newspapers will bash the public schools and their teachers at a time when morale is already at an extreme low. The optimism teachers first felt about the Common Core State Standards is fading as the standards and their tests roll into classrooms.

Because of the Common Core, our youngest children are being asked to meet unrealistic expectations. New York’s model curriculum for first graders includes knowing the meaning of words that include “cuneiform,” “sarcophagus,” and “ziggurat.” Kindergarteners are expected to meet expectations that have led some early childhood experts to worry that the Common Core Standards may cause young children harm.  If we are not careful, the development of social skills, the refinement of fine motor skills, and most importantly, the opportunity to celebrate the talents and experiences of every child will be squeezed out of the school day.

What is equally disconcerting is that these reforms are being pursued with little or no evidentiary grounding. There is, for instance, zero sound research that demonstrates that if you raise a student’s score into the new proficiency range, the chances of the student successfully completing college increases. New York’s new cut scores are an attempt to benchmark state scores to the proficiency rates attached to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or, NAEP. Yet the connections between NAEP scores and college performance are so spurious that researchers have yet to claim that NAEP scores have any predictive value at all when it comes to college and career readiness.  In addition,  the NAEP proficient level is very high, not at grade level at all.  In fact, most analysts consider the NAEP Basic level to be at grade level.  You can read about the problems with using NAEP as a benchmark here.

In light of all of the above, my advice to parents is this. Remember that these tests are hardly a measure of your child’s value or promise as a student. Be outraged if she is now labeled “below proficient” based on tests that were designed to have scores drop like a stone.  Your conversations with your child’s teacher or principal can give you far better insights into her academic and (just as importantly) social and emotional growth.

In fact, in the upcoming months, there will be far more important issues to worry about than our children’s test scores.  As schools and their teachers are hammered due to the score drop, there will be tremendous pressure to further narrow the curriculum and cut out all of the enrichment that can make young children smile with anticipation on Monday mornings. Don’t allow your schools to become the Dickensian places that are “in all things regulated and governed by fact” and where teachers are obliged to “discard the word Fancy altogether” as the government officer in “Hard Times” directed Gradgrind and his students to do.

If you think I am exaggerating, I suggest you read the Metrics and Expectations found here and ask, “Is this the way I want my neighborhood school to be run?” See how infrequently the words “parent” and “student” are mentioned.  If you think that parents and students matter, you will be disappointed.  Local control has no place in “metrics and expectations.”

The bottom line is that there are tremendous financial interests driving the agenda about our schools — from test makers, to publishers, to data management corporations — all making tremendous profits from the chaotic change. When the scores drop, they prosper. When the tests change, they prosper. When schools scramble to buy materials to raise scores, they prosper. There are curriculum developers earning millions to created scripted lessons to turn teachers into deliverers of modules in alignment with the Common Core (or to replace teachers with computer software carefully designed for such alignment). This is all to be enforced by their principals, who must attend “calibration events” run by “network teams.”

We who are inside schools have been sounding the alarm, although perhaps not as loudly as we should. But in the end, it will be parents, speaking with each other and with their local school boards and legislators, who will insist that sanity prevail and local control and reason be restored. It will be parents who insist that school not be a place of the continual measurement of deficits, instead standing as places that allow students to show what they know beyond a standardized test. Parents won’t “buy the bunk” and they will tire of data driven, rather than student driven, instruction. Then the “Hard Times for These Times” will end.