Testing season is rapidly approaching and there has been much conversation at the state level about opting out of the grade 3-8 ELA and Math exams again this year. Last year over 200,000 students and their parents refused the exams in an unprecedented act of civil disobedience designed to send a message to Albany-our kids are more than a test score. Well, Albany got the message. Many things have changed in the last 12 months.
We have a new Commissioner of Education, Mary Ellen Elia. NYSUT put pressure on legislators across the state to elect new members of the Board of Regents, including a replacement for the chancellor, Meryl Tisch, and our very own Regent, Anthony Bottar. The new chancellor, Betty Rosa, has been an outspoken proponent of a parent’s right to refuse the tests on their child’s behalf and, since being appointed chancellor, has reiterated her commitment to redirecting the focus of the State Education Department on the challenges that schools serving poor students face. READ MORE HERE ABOUT BETTY ROSA’s APPOINTMENT.
And let’s face it, the biggest change that teachers are facing is a 4 year moratorium on the consequences of the high stakes 3-8 tests on our APPR scores. Yes, the state is still hanging onto an “advisory score” based on the state growth score. Yes, we still are administering local achievement tests. And yes, the observation model is not perfect. But I can’t state strongly enough how significant this moratorium is for teachers in grades 3-8 and this change will undoubtedly have a ripple effect on the rest of the APPR system moving forward. We have the advocacy of parents and our union, NYSUT, to thank for these changes.
Some things haven’t changed much, despite what you’ve heard on TV. Are the tests shorter this year than last? Yes (by 1-2 questions per booklet). Have timed tests been eliminated? Yes (which is causing a host of other logistical issues). Has Pearson been removed as the author of the tests? Yes (but not this year. That’ll start with next year’s test). Are teachers being consulted on the design of the test? Yes (kind of, they are consulting on the tests but not actually writing questions. The big testing companies are still in control of the test questions and administration). And the big question in my mind: are the tests developmentally appropriate for kids? I think you can guess the answer to that one.
So, we come back to the issue of opting out of the state tests-should our members opt our their own children from this year’s tests? Opt Out is not going away, there’s even an online web app that generates an automatic opt out email for parents, opens your mail app on your phone, and lets you customize the letter to meet your child’s individual needs. Not that’s cutting edge tech at its best. Our WDEA executive council agreed that sharing information with our members was the best way to answer their questions about opt out. NYSUT agrees and will support locals (the WDEA) as they share info with their members and support a parent’s right to refuse.
There is still a strong opt out movement across the state and locally. You will likely have students opting out again this year. As you consider your own choices as parents, please take a moment to look over some information prepared by NYSUT. Also, please remember a few important points:
- Parent’s have a right to refuse the state tests.
- Regents exams should not be refused, student’s need them to graduate.
- Teachers should neither encourage nor discourage opting out of state tests.
- Refer all parental questions about opt out to your building principal.
Thank you for staying informed about this issue. If nothing else, it is a valuable lesson in the power of standing up for kids and speaking out through the union.