Archives For February 2015
Dear UFT Leadership
By Jia Lee
There have been several points along my 14 years as a public school special education teacher when I felt I’d had enough. Many teachers across the country are fleeing the profession, retiring as soon as possible and publicly stating why. When I presented my reasons for becoming a conscientious objector to high stakes testing before the US Senate, some may have viewed it as a risky step, but for me, it was a moment of absolute clarity. The “I Refuse” Resolution reclaims our pedagogical and professional rights and values. It is why over forty locals across New York State have passed this exact resolution. It supports the values of Teachers of Conscience and initiates a means of directly countering Governor Cuomo’s education proposals with the moral force of teachers acting as individuals and collectively in the interests of their students and themselves.
We are at an unprecedented time of policy-making in education that is being driven by those who have very little or no experience teaching. Some of us have joined grassroots groups to organize forums to educate the public about our work and why their children are more than a test score. Sadly, we must also educate the leadership of the largest and most influential local teachers union in the world. At the United Federation of Teachers Delegate Assembly on February 11, 2015, Sterling Roberson, the Vice President of Career and Technical Education stated, in opposition to the resolution, “… the union is against over-testing, but testing is important for parents to know where their child is compared to other children.” The goal and purpose of education in this day and age, we would hope, is to prepare our students to collaborate with each other to solve the immense problems our world faces. We work with beautifully diverse student populations, whose strengths and talents should never be used to compare, rank, sort and place labels based on faulty, opaque metrics.
Mr. Roberson used the term “diagnostic,” as if these tests are being used to provide some kind of useful information that would inform our instruction, or as he put it, “Tell parents where their children are.” Where has he been? Teachers no longer have access to the tests, and scores arrive at the end of the year. We no longer have the ability to know how our students answered, let alone have the ability to engage in any kind of meaningful dialogue around the items. They are useless for the purposes of teaching and learning. That is because they are not meant to be diagnostic. The sole purpose of the tests is to evaluate teachers. There is ample research which demonstrates that these tests are not indicators of school, teacher or student success or failure. In fact, they are indicators of students’ socioeconomic status, access to resources and other outside-of-school factors. High stakes tests are not diagnostic: they are tools for profit and managing the teaching workforce, made possible by alignment with the Common Core and a climate of rigid enforcement that is taking over our public schools.
Diagnostic exams in schools can be thought of as akin to those used in medicine. Various tools are used to assess a patient’s condition, and physicians often use more than one tool to synthesize the outcomes, in order to provide a comprehensive diagnosis that suggests a path for treatment. The information is immediate and informs professional judgement about the patient’s condition and possible ways of treating them. Imagine if the results of X-rays were not made available to doctors or their patients until months later, and the results came in the form of a 4, 3, 2 or 1. I’d hope that Sterling Roberson himself would say this type of practice is medically useless, if not dangerous.
To continue with this analogy, imagine the X-rays were then viewed by a minimally-trained temp hired by a major corporation with other financial interests in this field, which then determines the score as an indicator of the doctor’s ability to practice medicine. It is absurd, and a danger to both patient and doctor. How out of touch from what is happening in schools and classrooms has our leadership become that they refuse to acknowledge the obvious faults in their own arguments?
It is time for our union leadership to acknowledge that hundreds of thousands of teachers are in fight or flight mode. The moment of clarity for me came two years ago, when one of my most creative and hard working students suddenly scratched into her test booklet, “Dear Testing People, I hate writing because of this test.” Before she could let out another painful word, I gently pulled away her test booklet. When the extended testing time was up, I showed her the notebooks filled with stories she had written and responses to her reading that led to her typing book reviews on several major online platforms. Her test form indicated the “999” refusal. This beautiful little girl is more than a test score and always will be.
We need our union leadership to be an integral part of educating the public, so that the promise of public education, which we all know is still an aspiration, can be realized. However, it seems that they first need a lesson on the intended purposes, workings and consequences of these tests for students and teachers.
If they’re unwilling to learn, then they should step aside and let rank and file teachers speak and act for themselves and their students.
For Immediate Release:
While Governor Cuomo is Waging War Against Public Schools, Parents and Teachers Call For An End To Unjust Testing!
Public education as we know it is in mortal danger here in New York State. The anti-public education Governor Andrew Cuomo is attempting to get rid of what is left of teacher, parent and student rights with his destructive agenda for our schools.
Parents statewide are opting their children out of standardized testing, but Cuomo has rejected this call and wants to add more value to these tests by tying a majority of teacher’s evaluations to standardized exam scores.
Public school educators from all around the state stand stand firmly with parents and our students who have decided to opt-out. Instead of attacking public education, we call on Cuomo to come visit our schools, speak with children, parents, and teachers. These misguided attacks are taking away from the real issues that are harming our schools; child poverty, lack of resources, class sizes, and narrowed curriculum due to the over emphasis on standardized testing.
Unfortunately our UFT leadership does not feel the same. Our caucus, The Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), raised the “I Refuse” resolution at the February 11th UFT Delegate Assembly. It calls for union opposition to standardized high stakes testing that is currently pushed by the Federal and State governments, because this testing is not being used to further instruction for children, to help children, or to support the educational needs of children. The UFT leadership voted against this resolution.
MORE also supports it because, “assessment practices that accompany Common Core State Standards – including the political manipulation of test scores – are used as justification to label and close schools, fail students, and evaluate educators”.
The speaker opposing the resolution representing our union leadership said “standardized testing is necessary” and refused to stand with parents, students, classroom teachers and over forty teacher unions from all across the state.
MORE member, public school parent and teacher, Jia Lee testified to the United States Senate that “the focus on testing has taken valuable resources and time away from programming in social studies, the arts and physical education. At my school, we no longer have a librarian and our parent association works full-time to fund needed arts programs that are not provided for in our budget.”
The use of standardized test scores to evaluate students and teachers has been proven to be invalid, as Ms. Lee stated: “The American Statistical Association has warned The Value Added Measured scores themselves have large standard errors, even when calculated using several years of data. These large standard errors make rankings unstable, even under the best scenarios for modeling. In New York State, the tests change every year, and the cut scores shift.”
The time has come for UFT leadership and Governor Cuomo to listen to class-room teachers, our students, and their parents in ending their support for the non-stop testing of our children.
About MORE: MORE is a caucus in the UFT that organizes for a member-driven union. We fight for the public schools our children deserve. “Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions!”
MORE believes that it is crucial that UFT members get involved in the fight-back against Cuomo’s proposals. Therefore, we urge members to do the following:
- Attend the district meetings (click here for locations) that the UFT is promoting to speak out against the Governor’s agenda. Although the union needs to be prodded to do much more than this we believe it is important that we have strong showings at these gatherings.
- Plan activities in your school. Every chapter is different and some are more active than others. But throughout the city members are upset and they should be asked to do something. If all you can realistically do is get members to call local legislators than we urge you to do that. If you believe you can organize a picket outside your school — or in conjunction with nearby schools — we urge you to do that. If it is possible for you to reach out to and involve the parents of your students, that will make whatever you plan even more effective.
We believe this is a very high priority for our organization over the next few months. If you would like help strategizing about how to do this, have ideas to build our fight back, or questions, please contact the steering committee (firstname.lastname@example.org).
MORE has endorsed the following resolution and will urge the leadership of our UFT to do the same.
Resolution to Support “The I Refuse Movement” to Oppose High Stakes Testing
WHEREAS, the purpose of education is to educate a populace of critical thinkers who are capable of shaping a just and equitable society in order to lead good and purpose-filled lives, not solely prepare that populace for college and career; and
WHEREAS, instructional and curricular decisions should be in the hands of classroom professionals who understand the context and interests of their students; and
WHEREAS, the education of children should be grounded in developmentally appropriate practice; and
WHEREAS, high quality education requires adequate resources to provide a rich and varied course of instruction, individual and small group attention, and wrap-around services for students; and
WHEREAS, the state assessments are not transparent in that–teachers and parents are not allowed to view the tests and item analysis will likely not be made available; and
WHEREAS, the assessment practices that accompany Common Core State Standards – including the political manipulation of test scores – are used as justification to label and close schools, fail students, and evaluate educators; therefore be it
RESOLVED that NYSUT opposes standardized high stakes testing that is currently pushed by the Federal and State governments, because this testing is not being used to further instruction for children, to help children, or to support the educational needs of children; and be it further
RESOLVED, that NYSUT advocates for an engaged and socially relevant curriculum that is student-based and supported by research; and be it further
RESOLVED, that NYSUT will embark on internal discussions to educate and seek feedback from members regarding standardized high stakes testing and its impact on students; and be it further
RESOLVED, that NYSUT will lobby the NYS Education Department (NYSED) to eliminate the use of high stakes testing; and be it further
RESOLVED, that NYSUT will ask that all of its members have their own children refuse to take the Grade 3-8 assessments: and be it further
RESOLVED, that NYSUT will organize other members and affiliates to increase opposition to high stakes testing; and be it further
RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution will be sent to the NYSED, the Governor of NYS, and all members of the NYS legislative branch; and be it finally
RESOLVED, that after this resolution is passed by the UFT Delegates Assembly, an appropriate version will be submitted to the American Federation of Teachers for consideration at the AFT July 2015 Convention and to NYSUT for consideration at the 2015 RA.