Over the last ten days, I worked with four very dedicated education activists and teachers to crowdsource funds for a robocall to all NYS parents. We were successful, and believe it has had an impact on the number of last-minute test refusals that came into schools on April 13th as well as those that came in on the day of the ELA test, April 14. The following is the campaign's final press release. For more about our process, visit our guest blog on Anthony Cody's Living in Dialogue.
A small grassroots committee of education activists, teachers, retirees, parents and grandparents raised nearly $17,000 in only ten days to pay for a robocall that informed parents that they have the constitutional right to refuse Grades 3-8 state tests. Two different versions of the robocall were delivered on Sunday, April 12th. State English Language Arts tests begin on April 14, and math tests that will begin April 22.
Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor and candidate against Andrew Cuomo in the last gubernatorial primary, recorded the message in English. In order to reach the large Hispanic and Latino population of the state, Aixa Rodriguez, an educational activist and high school teacher, recorded the message in Spanish. The results of a poll taken at the conclusion of the call indicated that more than 50% of parents who responded intend to refuse the tests.
Last year, more than 60,000 parents across New York State “refused” their children out of testing. This year, tens of thousands across the state have expressed their concern about the increasing emphasis on tests that are ruining the education of their children, but many parents do not know they have the right to refuse testing. Supreme Court cases have upheld this right that is based on the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, stating in the case of Meyer v. Nebraska that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.”
Some school districts respond to parents with confusing information that can be interpreted as threatening and punitive, as well as intentionally misleading. Letters to parents often claim that if the school does not achieve 95% student participation on the test, their school district will incur loss of funding. Ken Wagner, Senior Deputy Commissioner of NYSED, admitted in a television interview that those penalties would not occur for “several years.” Parents in many districts are given inconsistent information on the effect test refusal has on selection for alternative instruction services (AIS) or other programming. NY State Part 100.2 regulations allow individual school districts to “develop and maintain on file a uniform process by which the district determines whether to offer AIS…,” and these procedures can be different in every school district. State regulations do not discuss test refusals resulting in the mandated provision of AIS, or the elimination of students from other programming.
Many districts mislead with semantics, telling parents that there is no “opt-out” provision for the tests in NYS. In reality, parents always have the right to refuse the tests for their children. A test refusal is scored as a “No Score - Code 999” on the test, and has no repercussion on the student, the teacher, or the school. Though school districts like to be informed ahead of time so that they can make alternate arrangements for students, test refusals can be made right up to the day of the test.
The tests themselves are designed for failure, calibrated to an SAT score of 1630, with “passing” cut scores adjusted after the tests are scored. Literary analysis indicates that test reading passages and questions are often three grades beyond the age of the children. “Equally plausible” answer choices (favored by the Pearson tests), require abstract thinking, a cognitive skill that usually does not develop until age 12. 70% of New York State children fail these tests. Only 5% of students with identified cognitive disabilities, and 3% of English language learners, achieve proficiency on the tests. Test scores are negatively correlated with zip codes, with impoverished communities having higher failure rates. The result is that teachers lose their jobs, and schools are wrongly declared failures, while the real issue confronting schools in trouble is poverty and lack of funding. The ultimate goal of the Governor’s “reforms” appears to be the replacement of public schools with for-profit charter schools.
Children are the pawns in this political game, and their education is short-changed. In his zeal to “break the monopoly” of public education, Cuomo’s education “reforms” double down on testing by weighting test results more heavily in teacher evaluations. This will surely force even more test preparation as teachers fight to keep the careers they worked hard to establish. As creative and authentic types of instruction are lost to testing, our children lose their self-confidence along with their enthusiasm for learning. More class time is now devoted to practice for testing with workbooks and worksheets, instead of authentic learning through projects, experimentation, and constructive inquiry. Music, art, social studies, enrichment, and science is crowded out to make more time for language arts and math, the only two subjects that matter on the tests.
Eric Mihelbergel of the New York Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) believes that test refusals may double or triple this year. A large increase in refusal numbers will send a powerful political message to New York State, as well as to our federal government, that parents will no longer allow their children to be used as a profit market for testing corporations, politicians, and government bureaucracies. For more information on refusing tests, visit www.facebook.com/NYSmorethanatestscore or www.nysape.org.