Thursday, April 2, 2015
Flawed state budget bill gives parents more reasons to opt out
On Tuesday night, a state budget bill was approved that doubles down on high-stakes testing and removes any local input– with student "growth scores" on the state exams linked to teacher ratings in a uniform evaluation system. Teachers must do well in terms of student scores to achieve an effective rating. If not, they cannot get tenure, and they risk losing their jobs if found to be ineffective two years in a row. Teacher and student surveys cannot be used in any local evaluation system and the State Education Dept. will be tasked with creating new "student learning objectives" or assessments in all the subjects and grades that do not currently have a state exam. Schools must hire "independent" evaluators to observe and assess the teachers in addition to principals and/or school staff. If districts don't adopt this system by mid-November they will lose any increase in state funding. A good summary of the new teacher evaluation system is described here – as well as other aspects of the bill, including an aggressive receivership program, in which struggling schools can be converted into charter schools without any vote of the parents (which is what the existing state law requires.)
The entire bill is posted here, Assembly vote here, and the Senate vote here. The bill was approved despite the opposition of the NY State United Teachers, the NYC Principals Union, and the NYS PTA, (but not apparently the UFT). The Council of State Superintendents and NY State School Boards Association pointed out this is the fourth deeply- flawed teacher evaluation system to be adopted in five years: "The well-known definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." Here is some of the angry reaction from educators after the bill passed.
Now parents are faced with a limited set of choices. The ELA exams are scheduled for April 14-16. Class Size Matters and NYS Allies for Public Education, our statewide coalition, urge all parents of students in grades 3-8 to opt their children out of these faulty, unreliable and excessive exams. Some of the reasons offered by NYSAPE as well as sample opt out letters you can use are here. NYC-based Change the Stakes offers additional reasons and opt out letters here. Lisa Nielsen, also known as Innovative Educator, lists more reasons here. Last year over 60,000 students did refuse the state exams, according to the State Education Department, and in a statewide survey of NY districts, more than 35 percent of superintendents said at least 5 percent of their eligible students opted out. Twenty-three percent of superintendents reported opt outs at 10 percent or more. Not a single school or district experienced any penalty or any loss of funding.
I would add another reason to opt out relates to serious privacy concerns, with Pearson collecting much personal student information via the exams, and as we learned recently, closely monitoring student social media during and after the tests. The new state law gives parents yet more cause to opt out: to express their vehement opposition to the way parent voices are being ignored, while our schools, teachers, and students are increasingly defined by means of one-dimensional, badly designed and unreliable high-stakes exams. If you are a NYC parent and willing to gather information on opt outs at your school, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other articles and blogs about reasons to opt-out of standardized tests:
4 Reasons parents want to opt kids out of standardized tests (It's not just about the Common Core)- AL.com