Thursday, March 31, 2016
No, Commissioner Elia, We Don't Trust You
NYS Education Commissioner Elia made a concerted effort to "stamp out" the opt-out movement with her "tool kit" to schools, letters to editors of media, and visits to schools statewide. In spite of her pleas, all indications as of the first day of ELA testing show that parental refusals either stayed the same statewide, or may have even increased overall.
For a second year, a small group of activists, including myself and four other educators and parents, crowdsourced a fundraiser to pay for a robocall to NYS parents that was sent on April 3. William Cala, former superintendent of Fairport Schools and an education advocate, recorded the calls in English. Aixa Rodriguez, an educator, recorded the calls in Spanish.
The robocall group raised $5,000 in a week, from over 200 donations, in order to pay for the calls. This year's call was sent to 234,000 parent households. The message is clear, nothing has changed in the harm that developmentally inappropriate tests is doing to our children.
NOTHING HAS CHANGED
Commissioner Elia is misguided in asking NYS parents and educators to “trust her.” She is blind to the fact that “education reforms” have been proven a failure, and that parents overwhelmingly say no to high-stakes tests. She is also tone deaf to changes from the Regents, specifically new Chancellor Betty Rosa who said “I would absolutely opt (my children) out of the tests.”
Elia says: “The tests are shorter.” The reality is that students are facing tests that are designed to take nine hours. Students with IEP/504 extended time accommodations may be facing twice that length. In addition, Elia has made the tests “untimed,” meaning that students could potentially test for the entire school day...for six days. These are not substantive changes, and do nothing to protect children from the stress or loss of academic self-confidence.
Elia says: “We have a new test vendor.” But Pearson’s NYS contract remains in full force until June 2016. All questions on this year’s test are Pearson questions, meaning that students can expect the same confusing equally plausible answer choices, the same developmentally inappropriate reading levels (as high as 9th grade on a 3rd grade test), and the same head-scratching stories such as the “sleeveless pineapple.”
Elia says that there are no consequences for teachers or principals but the reality is that test scores are being used to rank schools and push them into receivership, removing local control. The end result of the receivership process for many schools is turnover to a for-profit charter corporation of the resources we have paid for with our tax dollars.
Elia says, “This year’s test was reviewed by 22 NY state educators.” Twenty-two educators from the entire state is a tiny sampling. But more importantly, at least one of the teachers on the panel expressed disappointment. It appears that the selected educators were not allowed to make changes, suggest improvements, or write alternate questions. They were simply asked to rubber stamp the test questions that were already written.
Elia says that tests help teachers plan and are an “essential part of student experience” Teachers are still being forced to focus on test prep while play, art, music, science, social studies, physical education and even recess take a back seat. As for planning, every teacher uses their own assessments for that task. They do not need state test scores that have no validity, are not received for months, and have many questions that teachers never see.
Elia says tests are the only objective measure to compare student progress. A measurement is only as good as the tool being used for the measurement. These tests have been proven to be flawed, hence the results cannot be used objectively for any comparison.
Elia says that the concerns of parents who opted out of the tests last spring have been addressed. But changes are not substantive, and her words are misleading. Trust her? I don’t think so. The reality is that nothing has changed. Opt out is the one message that NY legislators are hearing loud and clear. If we as parents want real change, we need to continue to send that message - and OPT OUT.