Archives For High-Stakes Testing

 

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.

 

refuse the tests

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.

 

 

By Mindy Rosier

I attended my first CEC75 meeting on 01/22/15 in the conference room at Tweed and overall found it to be a very informative meeting filled with concerned parents.

Superintendent Gary Hecht began this meeting because Chancellor Farina was running late from another meeting. He announced that the annual Parent Engagement events in the boroughs will begin in April and encouraged all to attend. The dates and locations for these events can be found on the D75 calendar of events.

Chancellor Farina arrived a few minutes later and began her portion by sharing that there will now be a total of 7 borough D75 offices.They will be fully staffed and all services needed can and will be assessed based on need. She will also chose their directors.

She then went on to discuss principals and how they will be dealt with. A three tier system for supervision will based on how those principals are doing and their needs. The better the principal the more autonomy they will receive.

As for schools themselves, she does not want any of them to be closed. Farina feels they need to be helped first before being made accountable.

Farina strongly feels that teachers should be trained in language learning via speech practices. She highly believes in these practices and feels all educators and their students would benefit from training. Speech services will be a mission for her.

She feels that inclusion is an issue. It is not for everybody. She wants to make sure all of those students are getting the appropriate support and “how many kids are too many kids” needs to be properly evaluated.

Farina is a firm believer in assisted technology and she already has several pilot programs in effect.

She too stressed Parent Engagement days in the different boroughs and reiterated those dates and where they could be found.

Farina then moved on to how we must give proper training to leaders and that they must match AP’s to their students. In other words, a former elementary special education teacher turned AP, will be assigned to an elementary school.

She praised all of the new Pre-K programs and shared how they all will truly make a difference. She encouraged these young children to draw as they are future indicators on how those students will be. She wants assessment folders to contain lots of artwork. (She even went on that they will be using children’s artwork to decorate the new borough offices.)

Finally, Farina discussed that we must know about the needs of the city. She has put faith in superintendents to support and to supervise and emphasized that they WILL be held accountable.

*Opened up for questions-

I asked Farina the question about Cuomo’s plan of 50% of our evaluations based on tests. She made a face and then she kind of tap danced around the question. Farina went on about how teachers need to be evaluated. I did not appreciate her trying to change the angle of my question. I was very clear and I know she understood me so I said that evaluations were not the problem, it’s being tied to the tests that is the problem. She then went on to say that there is a think tank already formed and they “need to figure out target progress.” She concluded her “non-explanations” by saying that she hears me…. (I had discussed her response with another attendee and he felt she seemed to be skeptical about basing evaluations on computers.) Maybe it is too early to have a definitive answer but it is not too early to come up with a “what-if?” plan. I was completely dissatisfied with her response. If there is in fact a “think tank,” who is in it? Educators? Parents? Retail workers? After quickly going through a couple of more questions, she left the conference area.

The superintendent of D75, Gary Hecht then took some questions. Surprisingly, he gave a lot of great responses. A few parents brought up the Common Core with their children’s instruction. He stressed that the CC must be aligned with the capabilities of the student. Hecht gave an example that a child in gen ed in the 8th grade is different than an 8th grade student in special ed. Having an IEP “means we have to see kids differently.” “We need to look at data, look at IEP’s.” He feels that current measures are not appropriate. “They are too challenging and kids will react.” I took this as an opportunity to ask him about high stakes testing and how I feel it is wrong to subject our students to them. Hecht said he is against them because the kids suffer. He agreed with me that it is heartbreaking seeing those kids struggle like they have been. Hecht explained that since those tests come from a state level, nothing can be done right now. He believes alternate assessments would be best for them. A new commissioner will be chosen soon and a dialogue on testing will be one of the priorities. Hecht continued that IEP’s should be the determining factor of achievement and growth. He encouraged all of us to contact NYS Regent Dr. Betty Rosa.  She is a former D75 principal from D6.

Hecht also said that parents, teachers, advocates, etc. must work collectively together to say what’s best for our students.

He answered a few more questions before answering one from a parent who asked about Safety Agents in schools. Hecht explained that they have been working closely with Safety Agents and Police Departments. There has been training sessions to help Safety Agents understand the needs of these D75 schools.

Although I was not happy with Farina, I saw a light of hope in Hecht. I truly hope he will not disappoint.

jia-lee-senate-testimony-01-21-15

Jia Lee, who is a special education teacher at the Earth School in Manhattan, testified at a senate hearing on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) on January 21st. As an act of conscience, Jia joined two other teachers last year in refusing to administer high-stakes standardized tests, citing their negative impacts on students. She is a parent who has opted her own child out of testing, joining thousands of parents around the nation. Jia is a leader of MORE, UFT Chapter Leader, and an active member of our sister organization Change the Stakes.

View Jia’s testimony at 1:03

 

Below is the written statement she submitted prior to her testimony. Her verbal presentation had a few changes, so we recommend watching the testimony on the video link above.
Testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee
Hearing on the Impact of NCLB’s Testing and Accountability
Jia Lee
The Earth School, NYC
January 21, 2015
Thank you Chairman Alexander and Senator Murray for this opportunity to offer my remarks
regarding the impact of No Child Left Behind’s testing and accountability provisions on our
public school children. I thank you for your vision and for this opportunity. I have an eleven
year-old son in sixth grade, so I speak to you as both a public school parent and a teacher.

Business practices are informing education policy, so I would like to start there. The use of
competitive, performance based practices have long been assumed to motivate workers.
Microsoft, Expedia and Adobe Systems are just some of the companies who adopted stack
ranking, the now infamous practice of applying rewards, consequences and rankings based
on performance. These same business advisors informed many of our nation’s biggest
school districts, including mine. In the past few years, businesses have abandoned this
practice because they have proven to have disastrous affects on collaboration, problem
solving, and innovation. The high exodus of workers seen in these businesses are attributed
to stack ranking (Oremus, 2013). Studies, including those sponsored by the Federal
Reserve Bank , find that incentive-based practices only work for the most menial tasks that
do not require critical thinking (Ariely, et. al., 2005). What was bad for business has been
disastrous for public education, a field already plagued with recruitment and retention
challenges. Educators with valuable experience are leaving the profession in droves and
enrollment in teacher preparation programs is abysmal.

Furthermore, multiple choice, high-stakes tests have reliably padded the profits of education
corporations, draining public tax dollars but have been unreliable in measuring the diversity
of students’ capabilities and learning. The use of those same tests in evaluating teachers is,
simply put, statistically invalid. The American Statistical Association has warned “The VAM
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
results are norm-referenced, ensuring a stack ranking of students with approximately 50%
below the curve. We are playing a dangerous game with our children’s futures and public
education, cornerstones of our democracy. As a special and general education teacher, I
have seen these tests incite anxiety and can provide numerous examples of times when
students stated that all they accomplished throughout the year meant nothing.

I have worked in different schools, some of which, through no fault of their own, have
become increasingly data driven as opposed to student driven. I am fortunate to currently
work in a public school that was founded on the principles of whole child education, where
we, the teachers, collaborate to develop curriculum and create relevant assessments. It is
the antithesis of stack ranking.

This year, our 4th and 5th graders are immersed in a study we call Rights and
Responsibilities. Students develop questions around the origins of the United States, the
Constitution, and discuss the complex struggles and progress we have made as a nation.
My class decided to divide themselves into groups to study three different perspectives from
the colonial era – the Native people, European colonists and the African slaves. They are
the researchers, using primary and secondary sources to learn about key events, figures,
and cultural and political ideas. My integrated co-teaching class consists of students with
disabilities, or I should say, all abilities, and they work in heterogeneous groups to present
their understandings through a variety of mediums: creating art pieces, choreographing
original dance pieces, presenting timelines, developing maps, conducting process dramas,
and giving oral reports. They are learning “how” to learn, developing lifelong skills:
researching, analyzing information from multiple sources, collaborating with others and
sharing what they’ve learned in creative and thought-provoking ways. They are the
stewards of their own learning, guided by their interests and passions. I share this not as a
best practice but to emphasize the importance of fostering learning environments that value
a culture of trust, diversity, and teacher autonomy not a focus on test preparation. Teachers’
working conditions are inextricably linked to students’ learning conditions.

When parents and educators voice concerns, they have been accused of coddling. I want to
challenge that assumption. The great crime is 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. We are one of
the lucky schools. What about schools where parents must work just to survive? I know
schools that no longer have money for basics such as soap for the bathrooms. There is
nothing more painful to watch or forced to be complicit to than the minimalizing that is
happening in our schools. Teachers, students and parents find themselves in a position of whether or not to push back or leave. Who is left to receive these tests and accompanying
sanctions? Who are the children receiving scripted curricula while losing recess, physical
education, music and civics lessons? It is our students from the most marginalized
communities. A current study by the Southern Education Foundation finds that more than
50% of our public school children are living in poverty, an all time high in fifty years (Layton,
2015). Black and Latino students live disproportionately at or below the poverty line, and it
is no accident that we are faced with the most segregated school system in history, with a
disproportionate number of school closures happening in the poorest communities- all at the
hands of using invalid metrics. It is what pushes me past my comfort zone and to speak out.

Last year, over 50% of the parents at our school refused to allow their children to take the
NYS Common Core aligned ELA and Math tests and we were not alone. The Latin root of
assessment is to “sit alongside.” Until we have teachers and policymakers “sitting
alongside” and getting to know our students and our classrooms in deep and meaningful
ways, we cannot fully understand the state of public education. (I sit here as the sole female in a field dominated by women-from verbal testimony) No corporate made multiple-choice test will give you that data. Last year, I decided that I am obligated and accountable
to my students and families, and that is why, as a conscientious objector, I will not
administer tests that reduce my students to a single metric and will continue to take this
position until the role of standardized assessments are put in their proper place. Along with
two other teachers at my school, we formed Teachers of Conscience, a position paper and
call to action at local levels.

We just celebrated the life of Martin Luther King Jr. In his Letter From a Birmingham Jail,
King affirms that “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” He quotes St. Augustine who said “an unjust law is no law at all.” So long as education policy continues to
be shaped by the interests of corporate profiteering and not the interests of our public
school children, we will resist these unjust testing laws. It is time to abandon faulty business
assumptions in public education. We are experiencing a historic resistance to high stakes
testing. Chicago Public Schools just voted to back away from PARCC assessments and
another state joins the nine who have already withdrawn from the assessment consortium.
Let us abandon stack ranking of our children and schools. We need future generations to
explore problems that have far more complex solutions than a multiple choice test. Let us
do the work of teaching and help us hold our state officials accountable for delivering on
funding, as promised through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

I am hopeful that we can sit alongside each other and do the hard work of answering the
questions most central to our democracy: What is the purpose of public education in a
democratic society? How can we ensure that all children receive an enriching and equitable
education? How do we support teachers and schools in carrying out their missions to
educate all? Thank you.

 

Jia Lee, MORE candidate and teacher at the Earth School is one of the conscientious objectors who refuses to administer the NY State Test this year.

Jia Lee, MORE candidate and teacher at the Earth School is one of the conscientious objectors who refuses to administer the NY State Test this year.

The members of MORE proudly support our colleague, Jia Lee, who will be testifying at a senate hearing on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal education policies on Wednesday, January 21st 2015. Jia has taught at all school levels from high school to elementary school. She currently serves as the UFT chapter leader at the Earth School on the Lower East Side. She is a parent who has opted her child out of testing, joining thousands of parents around the nation. She has become a leader of the opt-out movement.

Jia has been a strong advocate for teachers, parents and students, especially on the testing issue in her school, in MORE and in Change the Stakes. Last year she and other teachers at her school declared themselves “teachers of conscience” a form of conscientious objection in relation to the overwhelming negative impact of high stakes testing. In a letter to NYC Chancellor Carmen Farina, they wrote:

Dear Chancellor Carmen Fariña,

We are teachers of public education in the City of New York. We are writing to distance ourselves from a set of policies that have come to be known as market-based education reform. We recognize that there has been a persistent and troubling gulf between the vision of individuals in policymaking and the work of educators, but we see you as someone who has known both positions and might therefore be understanding of our position. We find ourselves at a point in the progress of education reform in which clear acts of conscience will be necessary to preserve the integrity of public education. We can no longer implement policies that seek to transform the broad promises of public education into a narrow obsession with the ranking and sorting of children. We will not distort curriculum in order to encourage students to comply with bubble test thinking. We can no longer, in good conscience, push aside months of instruction to compete in a city-wide ritual of meaningless and academically bankrupt test preparation. We have seen clearly how these reforms undermine teachers’ love for their profession and undermine students’ intrinsic love of learning.

As an act of conscience, we are declining the role of test administrators for the 2014 New York State Common Core Tests. We are acting in solidarity with countless public school teachers who have paved their own paths of resistance and spoken truthfully about the decay of their profession under market-based reforms. These acts of conscience have been necessary because we are accountable to the children we teach and our pedagogy, both of which are dishonored daily by current policies.

Read the full statement here:   https://teachersofconscience.wordpress.com

The voice of the classroom teacher will be in extraordinarily capable hands in the person of Jia Lee at the national forum at the US Senate Education Committee hearing.

The Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE-UFT) voted unanimously at our last General Body meeting to propose that the United Federation of Teachers, instead of sitting out this gubernatorial race, endorse the pro-public education platform presented by Howie Hawkins for Governor and Brian Jones for Lieutenant Governor.

MORE prepared to present a resolution at Wednesday’s Delegate Assembly. The UFT leadership, however, did not allow this discussion. Despite being informed in advance that MORE chapter leaders and delegates intended to raise this resolution for debate and voting, UFT leadership called time on the ten-minute new motion period, thus prohibiting this conversation. In fact, though Michael Mulgrew’s President’s Report was longer than 45 minutes, there was no mention of this Governor’s race.

Though UFT and NYSUT leadership remain silent regarding the upcoming Gubernatorial race, we pledge go to the polls and vote for the only public school positive, teacher-and-student friendly candidates in this race.  We encourage fellow friends of public education to join us in voting Hawkins/Jones!

Why? Here are just a few of the many reasons:

  • Both Andrew Cuomo and Rob Astorino vocally support the privatization of education through the expansion of charter schools. In contrast, the Green Party ticket of Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones opposes charter schools.
  • Andrew Cuomo has pushed through an expansion of testing statewide and the punitive linking of test scores to teacher evaluations. The Hawkins/Jones ticket opposes an emphasis on high stakes testing.
  • Andrew Cuomo implemented a destructive tax cap that has forced massive layoffs of teachers in upstate districts.
  • New York State AFL-CIO and the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) have declined to endorse Cuomo because of his anti-education policies.
  • Astorino and Cuomo are both millionaires while Hawkins and Jones are both union activists, Hawkins in Teamsters, Jones in the UFT and PSC.
  • The Hawkins/Jones platform of a Green New Deal calls for
    • equitable funding for all of our schools,
    • reduced class sizes across the state,
    • support for programs that promote desegregation in our schools,
    • an end to zero-tolerance discipline policies driving the school-to-prison pipeline,
    • and allowing schools to develop methods of assessment organic to the learning process. 
  • To learn more, Read their letter to teachers here, and spread the word using the voter guide below. 
MORE/UFT Caucus Pro-Education Positions Hawkins/ Jones (Green) Cuomo(Dem.) Astorino(Rep.)
Against the Expansion of Charter Schools
Against High Stakes Testing, Against APPR (New teacher evals) / Supports Parents & Students’ Right to Opt Out of High Stakes Tests
Against Common Core?
Union member or Millionaire Candidates? Union Millionaire Millionaire
Fight corporate ed deform by rescinding NY’s Race to the Top application and replacing NYSED commissioner John King
Tax Top 5% and Eliminate State Property Tax Cap to Fund Schools
Supports unionism, social movements and a $15/hr minimum wage

Don’t sit this election out, vote for a real change in Education Policy!  Vote Hawkins/Jones!

by Julie Cavanagh, special education teacher and ChapterLeader at Public School 15 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and MORE candidate for President of the UFT. Originally printed in The New York Daily News on August 15, 2014.

Four years ago, a group tied to testing and publishing companies, and bankrolled with Bill and Melinda Gates’ money, brought us the Common Core Learning Standards.

Cash-strapped states that wanted to win federal Race to the Top dollars had to adopt the standards, and more than 40 states, including New York, did so.

Julie Cavanagh speaks out at a MORE press conference

Last year, our students were assessed for the first time according to the new standards. State Education Department officials predicted a steep drop, and scores plummeted. This year, small gains were predicted, and that’s what happened, to the astonishment of no one.

Predictions are easy to make when you define what constitutes proficiency.

There will be an attempt from all factions to spin the results: The state will say the reform agenda is working, the city will argue the scores show the need for pre-K, and charter schools will claim they show their importance as high-quality alternatives.

Let’s get off the hamster wheel.

The truth is, these tests were designed to create a narrative of failure, and the trends are not so different from those we saw on the old tests: we are failing our children with special needs, our English language learners, our children who live in poverty, and a disproportionate number of black and Latino pupils.

It is no surprise that the results mirror the struggles and deep flaws in our society. Of course, the goal was never to actually fix our schools — there are no profits in doing that. There are no profits in providing small class sizes, experienced educators and services like counseling, tutoring and family support — proven reforms that would benefit all students.

Instead, the focus is on unproven standards and the tests that supposedly measure our student’s competency — written by the very people who profit from their use.