Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The testing rebellion & opt-out movement in NYC has a supporter -- inside Tweed

Lisa Nielsen

A nationwide backlash has erupted against the obsession with standardized testing.  In February 2012, the Texas Commissioner of Education, Robert Perry, announced that testing had become a "perversion of its original intent.” Over the last year, 86 percent of Texas school boards representing 91 percent of the state’s students, have passed resolutions against the use of high stakes testing. The view is now so mainstream that in his introductory remarks before the Legislature, Joe Straus, the new, conservative GOP Speaker of the Texas House recently announced,

"By now, every member of this house has heard from constituents at the grocery store or the Little League fields about the burdens of an increasingly cumbersome testing system in our schools…Teachers and parents worry that we have sacrificed classroom inspiration for rote memorization. To parents and educators concerned about excessive testing: The Texas House has heard you."
Joining the movement is Joshua Starr, the superintendent of Montgomery County, Maryland, who has called for the nation to “stop the insanity” of  evaluating teachers according to student test scores, and has proposed a three year moratorium on all standardized testing.  Starr has joined forces with Heath Morrison, the newly-appointed superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, a Broad-trained educator no less, who calls testing “an egregious waste of taxpayer dollars” that won’t help kids.  
Then last week, the movement jumped into the headlines when teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle voted unanimously to boycott the lengthy computerized MAP exams, which take weeks of classroom time to administer; the teachers were supported by the school’s PTA and the student government.   Other Seattle schools have now joined the boycott, and yesterday, more than sixty educators and researchers, including Diane Ravitch, Jonathan Kozol, and Noam Chomsky, released a letter of support for the boycott, noting that "no student's intellectual process can be reduced to a single number." [Full disclosure: I was among the letter's signers.]
Even before this, more than one third of the principals in New York State had signed onto a letter, protesting the state-imposed teacher evaluation system, which will be largely based on test scores, and Carol Burris, a Long Island principal and the letter’s co-author, has more recently posted a petition that has now over 8200 signatures from parents and educators, opposing all high-stakes testing. 

Though many NYC teachers and principals have spoken out against the particularly onerous brand of test score-based accountability imposed by DOE, with decisions over which children to hold back, what schools to close and which teachers to deny tenure to, based largely on the basis of test scores, no one inside the halls of Tweed, DOE’s headquarters, has up to now been brave enough to speak out publicly against the system.
Until now.  As reported in yesterday’s NY Post, Lisa Nielsen, the  newly-appointed digital guru at Tweed, has not only stated that she believes that high-stakes testing is severely damaging our children and schools, she has also offered creative suggestions of activities that parents can offer their children rather than allow them to be subjected to the state tests.  On her personal blog, the Innovative Educator, she writes:    There are so many ways kids can learn on opt out of state standardized testing days.  All it takes is community coming together to take back our children’s freedom to learn.
Lisa also runs the Facebook NY State Opt out of Testing page, and has pointed out the “12 Most Unconventional Reasons to Opt Your Child Out of Standardized Testing,” including the fact that they are a “horrific waste of money”, and cause unneeded anxiety and stress.  She adds: 
“Instead of spending billions of dollars on funding testing this money could go toward providing resources for children or lowering class size. Let the teachers do what they were trained to do — teach and assess. Keep big business out of the equation. Keep the billions of dollars out of the pockets of publishers and let it remain in the classroom.”

We now have our own anti-testing advocate at Tweed, and  we should all celebrate Lisa’s honesty and her courage in speaking the truth. 
Pasi Sahlberg, expert on Finland’s renowned educational system, had said that if his government decided to evaluate their teachers on the basis of test scores, the “teachers would probably go on strike and wouldn’t return until this crazy idea went away.” 
It’s time for all our educators to join the movement, follow the inspired leadership of Lisa Nielsen and the teachers in Seattle, go public with their opposition, and refuse to participate in this oppressive system any longer.


Unknown said...

Thank you, Leonie, for your summary of key developments in the test awareness/resistance movement. Can teachers, parents, principals, researchers, professors, enlightened legislators and a brave insider all be wrong? The snowball is beginning to roll.

It's time for union leadership to figure out which way the wind is blowing and take an unequivocal stand against high-stakes testing.

NYC public schools parents, please see www.changethestakes.org for information and support on what can be done to stop the testers from destroying education.

[Full disclosure: I'm a member of CTS]

Fred Smith

Robert Rendo said...

Dear Leonie,

I'm with you all the way.

Thank you for being part of the snow ball rolling, accelerating, and getting larger. I still have to ask if state and federal governments are really listening, as they have become so plutocratized . . .

But as I predicted, it was and is mainly parents who will have a more significant voice than teachers, when is comes to pushing back against this reform. Thank goodness that both are increasingly aligning with each other on this issue, and there is tremendous social justice generated therein.

Deep shame on the UFT, NEA, NYSUT, AND THE AFT for not combatting this 5 to 7 years ago and for not spending major money putting out ads. Karen Lewis seems to be among the few major education union leaders who really stands for teachers, parents, children, and the truth behind cognition.

But it's never too late to address injustices. And we stand more to put aside differences and join and build in solidarity.

Robert Rendo
Nationally Board Certified Teacher

Oregon SOS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Yes,it is about time we realize how much harm high stakes testing has done to the children in NYC and throughout the U.S. I am amazed that the NYC Dept of ED with our union hating Mayor and his puppet Chancellor MR. Walcott would appointment someone who speaks the truth about high stakes testing. This is a good sign.

Anonymous said...

Thank You Finally somebody is Thinking!

Anonymous said...

This is encouraging. I am an educators' union representatve in Wisconsin, and also a parent of two small children. Wisconsin educators are becoming increasingly demoralized as districts highlight test scores more, and their lessons are becoming scripted. I also don't want my kids' classrooms to be tailored to testing, but instead want their creativity, critical thinking and curiosity fostered.