The 2014 ELA and Math exams have been rife error with complaints and concerns that the tests amount to abuse. Testing Talk, feedback from Educators regarding the ELA CC tests, provides a provocative account of the issues that are of concern
But, what options do our students have under the same poor conditions and this “inhumane” climate that the teachers refer to?
Quit school? Fail the ridiculous tests?
Failure is not an option.
Diane Ravitch, a New York University professor and former U.S. assistant secretary of education, said “It’s time for civil disobedience,” regarding high stakes testing and flawed education policy. “If they tell you to do something you know is wrong, don’t do it.” http://riverheadnewsreview.timesreview.com/2013/11/49394/diane-ravitch-calls-for-civil-disobedience-on-standardized-testing/
What happens when parents say “No, not with my child”?
They protect their child against state-sanctioned harm.
The only option for students to challenge the same “inhuman” treatment is to refuse the test!
If at any time during your advocacy you feel pressure to conform, ask yourself this simple question: Are you “That Parent?” Then, stand up and do what you feel is best for YOUR child.
You are not alone.
Teachers have spoken out against testing as it defies their conscience.
Over 1,550 principals and over 6,500 other educators and concerned citizens across New York State and our country who support efforts to stop harmful educational practices that are not based in research issued an open letter that everyone is welcome to support. You can find the letter here.
We are the principals of your children’s schools. We serve communities in every corner of New York State — from Niagara County to Clinton, Chautauqua to Suffolk. We come from every size and type of school, with students from every background. We thank you for sharing your children with us and for entrusting us to ensure that they acquire the skills and knowledge they need to achieve their dreams and your hopes for them. This year, many of your children experienced the first administration of the newly revised New York State
Assessments. You may have heard that teachers, administrators, and parents are questioning the validity of these tests. As dedicated administrators, we have carefully observed the testing process and have learned a great deal about these tests and their impact. We care deeply about your children and their learning and want to share with you what we know — and what we do not know — about these new state assessments.
Here’s what we know:
1) NYS Testing Has Increased Dramatically: We know that our students are spending more time taking State tests than ever before. Since 2010, the amount of time spent on average taking the 3-8 ELA and Math tests has increased by a whopping 128%! The increase has been particularly hard on our younger students, with third graders seeing an increase of 163%!
2) The Tests were Too Long: We know that many students were unable to complete the tests in the allotted time. Not only were the tests lengthy and challenging, but embedded field test questions extended the length of the tests and caused mental exhaustion, often before students reached the questions that counted toward their scores. For our Special Education students who receive additional time, these tests have become more a measure of endurance than anything else.
3) Ambiguous Questions Appeared throughout the Exams: We know that many teachers and principals could not agree on the correct answers to ambiguous questions in both ELA and Math. In some schools, identical passages and questions appeared on more than one test and at more than one grade level. One school reported that on one day of the ELA Assessment, the same passage with identical questions was included in the third, fourth AND fifth grade ELA Assessments.
4) Children have Reacted Viscerally to the Tests: We know that many children cried during or after testing, and others vomited or lost control of their bowels or bladders. Others simply gave up. One teacher reported that a student kept banging his head on the desk, and wrote, “This is too hard,” and “I can’t do this,” throughout his test booklet.
5) The Low Passing Rate was Predicted: We know that in his “Implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards” memo of March 2013, Deputy Commissioner Slentz stated that proficiency scores (i.e., passing rate) on the new assessments would range between 30%-37% statewide. When scores were released in August 2013, the statewide proficiency rate was announced as 31%.4/7/14
An Open Letter to New York Parents 2
6) The College Readiness Benchmark is Irresponsibly Inflated: We know that the New York State Education Department used SAT scores of 560 in Reading, 540 in Writing and 530 in mathematics, as the college readiness benchmarks to help set the “passing” cut scores on the 3-8 New York State exams. These NYSED scores, totaling 1630, are far higher than the College Board’s own college readiness benchmark score of 1550. By doing this, NYSED has carelessly inflated the “college readiness” proficiency cut scores for students as young as nine years of age.
7) State Measures are Contradictory: We know that many children are receiving scores that are not commensurate with the abilities they demonstrate on other measures, particularly the New York State Integrated Algebra Regents examination. Across New York, many accelerated eighth-graders scored below proficiency on the eighth grade test only to go on and excel on the Regents examination one month later. One district reports that 58% of the students who scored below proficiency on the NYS Math 8 examination earned a mastery score on the Integrated Algebra Regents.
8) Students Labeled as Failures are Forced Out of Classes: We know that many students who never needed Academic Intervention Services (AIS) in the past, are now receiving mandated AIS as a result of the failing scores. As a result, these students are forced to forgo enrichment classes. For example, in one district, some middle school students had to give up instrumental music, computer or other special classes in order to fit AIS into their schedules.
9) The Achievement Gap is Widening: We know that the tests have caused the achievement gap to widen as the scores of economically disadvantaged students plummeted, and that parents are reporting that low-scoring children feel like failures.
10)The Tests are Putting Financial Strains on Schools: We know that many schools are spending precious dollars on test prep materials, and that instructional time formerly dedicated to field trips, special projects, the arts and enrichment, has been reallocated to test prep, testing, and AIS services.
11)The Tests are Threatening Other State Initiatives: Without a doubt, the emphasis on testing is threatening other important State initiatives, most notably the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Parents who see the impact of the testing on their children are blaming the
CCSS, rather than the unwise decision to implement high stakes testing before proper capacity had been developed. As long as these tests remain, it will be nearly impossible to have honest conversations about the impact of the CCSS on our schools.
Here’s what we do not know:
1) How these Tests will Help our Students: With the exception of select questions released by the state, we do not have access to the test questions. Without access to the questions, it is nearly impossible to use the tests to help improve student learning.
2) How to Use these Tests to Improve Student Skills or Understanding: Tests should serve as a tool for assessing student skills and understanding. Since we are not informed of the make-up of the tests, we do not know, with any level of specificity, the content or skills for which children require additional support. We do not even know how many points were allotted for each question.
3) The Underlying Cause of Low Test Scores: We do not know if children’s low test scores are actually due to lack of skills in that area or simply a case of not finishing the test — a problem that plagued many students.4/7/14 An Open Letter to New York Parents 3
4) What to Expect Next Year: We do not know what to expect for next year. Our students are overwhelmed by rapidly changing standards, curriculum and assessments. It is nearly impossible to serve and protect the students in our care when expectations are in constant flux and put in place rapidly in a manner that is not reflective of sound educational practice.
5) How Much this is Costing Already-Strained Taxpayers: We don’t know how much public money is being paid to vendors and corporations that the NYSED contracts to design assessments, nor do we know if the actual designers are educationally qualified.
Please know that we, your school principals, care about your children and will continue to do everything in our power to fill their school days with learning that is creative, engaging, challenging, rewarding and joyous. We encourage you to dialogue with your child’s teachers so that you have real knowledge of his skills and abilities across all areas. If your child scored poorly on the test, please make sure that he does not internalize feelings of failure. We believe that the failure was not on the part of our children, but rather with the officials of the New York State Education Department. These are the individuals who chose to recklessly implement numerous major initiatives without proper dialogue, public engagement or capacity building. They are the individuals who have failed.
As principals of New York schools, it is always our goal to move forward in a constant state of improvement. Under current conditions, we fear that the hasty implementation of unpiloted assessments will continue to cause more harm than good. Please work with us to preserve a healthy learning environment for our children and to protect all of the unique varieties of intelligence that are not reducible to scores on standardized tests. Your child is so much more than a test score, and we know it.
Like the New York Principals, over 136+ education professors, researchers and officials issued a Statement Against HST in MA. This effort was spear headed by Dr. Monty Neil and Nancy Carlsson Paige:
Statement against High-Stakes Standardized Testing
by Massachusetts Professors and Researchers
There has been a ground swell of opposition to the overuse and misuse of standardized testing across the United States. This includes statements from more than 670 Texas school boards, nearly one-third of all New York State principals, and hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals who have endorsed the National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing. Against this backdrop, two significant statements have come from groups of educators and researchers in Chicago, Georgia and New York.We applaud these actions and have come together in solidarity with their efforts.
We respectfully present this statement to the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education, the Secretary of Education and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) because you have it within your power to dramatically improve state assessment policies and thereby improve the learning opportunities and conditions for all of our students. We also copy this to the Governor and key legislators, as they too have the power to enact positive changes.
As educators and researchers from across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we strongly oppose our state’s continued overreliance on high-stakes standardized testing to assess student achievement, evaluate teacher effectiveness, and determine school quality. Given that standardized tests provide only one indicator of student achievement, and that their high-stakes uses produce ever-increasing incentives to teach to the test, narrow the curriculum, or even to cheat, we call on the BESE to stop using standardized tests in high-stakes decisions affecting students, teachers, and schools.
Researchers have documented, and a nine-year study by the National Research Council (Hout & Elliott, 2011) has confirmed, that the past decade’s emphasis on testing has yielded little learning progress. Further, testing experts and the test-makers themselves have consistently warned against using standardized tests for high-stakes decisions such as graduation or retention, or to hire, fire, or reward teachers (AERA, 2000). The tests provide only a snapshot of a limited range of knowledge and skills, so they can provide only limited information to teachers. Because the tests are not designed to determine teacher effectiveness, no accurate conclusions can be drawn about an individual teacher from her students’ test scores. Research indicates that a teacher’s impact on student learning cannot be reliably isolated from the myriad other factors that impact student learning (Baker et al., 2009). Finally, test experts have shown that test scores can be raised without increasing true student learning (Koretz, 2008), and that the higher the stakes attached to a test, the less trustworthy the test scores are. Cheating scandals in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and dozens of other major cities dramatically illustrate this problem. Problems with the use of MCAS interact with other educational problems, such as continued funding inequities and the growth of poverty within the state (MassBudget, 2012). While MCAS may help identify the consequences of inequities, its high-stakes uses exacerbate these consequences. These MCAS problems include but are not limited to:
Disparate impact on students. Numerous studies document that the use of high-stakes testing — including test barriers to high school graduation — bears adverse impact on students and is accompanied by widening racial/ethnic and income-based gaps. MCAS testing has not significantly reduced disparities in achievement or eliminated gaps, thus the negative consequences of the high-stakes tests fall disproportionately on the groups that most need help. In Massachusetts’ low-income, urban districts, large numbers of students perform below proficiency on the MCAS. Twice as many urban as suburban public high school graduates fail college placement tests in math and English and must take noncredit, remedial classes (Massachusetts DESE, 2008). Results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show a failure to achieve significant reduction in the achievement gap separating Massachusetts’ white students from African-American and Latino students since 2003. The negative effects of our high-stakes testing environment are perhaps most pronounced for English Language Learners (ELLs) — for whom the tests were not designed — who cumulatively and consistently fail to achieve proficiency within the limited school time of a year and a day before they are required to take the exam in English. According to a 2011 Gaston Institute report, “In high school, about 18% of [ELL] students were retained in grade, many of them several times and many of them in the ninth grade to avoid having them fail the tenth grade MCAS graduation requirement.” In Massachusetts, ELLs are, on average, nine times more likely to drop out of high school than their peers. The disparate impact of the graduation requirement on students with disabilities also is striking. For example, of the 2,798 students who did not pass all the required MCAS tests by the end of their senior year in 2011, 75% were students with disabilities (Kruger & McIvor, 2013). The fact remains that Massachusetts has placed the most severe accountability on the backs of its most disadvantaged students.
Negative impact on curriculum and instruction. Surveys of teachers in Massachusetts (Abrams et al., 2003; Clarke et al., 2003) and nationally (McMurrer, 2007; Moon et al., 2003; Hinde, 2003) show a marked increase in teaching to the test and narrowing the curriculum to tested subjects as a result of high-stakes testing. In addition, research compiled by the NRC and others shows this comes with a negative impact on school climate, often creating an environment of intimidation, fear, anxiety and stress for both teachers and their students, including kindergarten children (Hout & Elliott, 2011). Further, investigators of the Atlanta cheating scandal identified high-stakes testing as a cause of the problem (Georgia Bureau of Investigation, 2011). Under such conditions, it becomes difficult for teachers to create a learning environment that promotes creativity, critical thinking, risk-taking, experimentation and a love of learning. Moreover, as with other negative consequences, there is a disparate impact: teaching to the test, curricular narrowing and damaging school climates more frequently affect low income and minority students.
Negative impact on educators. High-stakes testing creates adverse consequences not only for students but also for educators. Researchers have challenged the validity, reliability, effectiveness, and ethics of using high-stakes test scores to evaluate educators. Further, as argued in an open letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel by Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education (CReATE, 2012), “There is no evidence that evaluation systems that incorporate student test scores produce gains in student achievement… [and] Teachers will subtly but surely be incentivized to avoid students with health issues, students with disabilities, students who are English Language Learners, or students suffering from emotional issues. Research has shown that no model yet developed can adequately account for all of these ongoing factors.” Student growth measures are not capable of identifying with reasonable accuracy and consistency over time who is or is not an effective teacher. Already some highly effective teachers are leaving the profession. Further, Massachusetts’ new system requires that “measures of student learning” be developed as part of annually evaluating every teacher in every subject and grade. This could further inundate students with testing and test preparation.
Negative impact on schools. The problems discussed above harm many schools, as well as their students and teachers individually. While federal law requires assessments, it does not require high-stakes standardized testing. There is nothing to prevent Massachusetts from using a very different assessment system, using multiple sorts of indicators gathered over time, as was proposed in the Education Reform Act of 1993.
Because of these and other problems with the high-stakes uses of standardized tests to evaluate students, teachers and schools, we call on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to:
Work with educators, parents and the public to craft a new assessment system that will more fully assess the many competencies our children need to succeed in the 21st century and that will avoid the current overreliance on standardized tests.
Stop using MCAS test results as a barrier to high school graduation.
Prohibit the use of test scores in educator evaluations and in decisions for hiring, firing, laying off or rewarding teachers.
Focus teacher evaluations on the appropriate use of evidence-based teaching practices and a comprehensive set of indicators of classroom and school-based student learning rather than one-shot test scores.
Stop using test scores to designate schools for punitive turnaround reform measures that mandate the firing of 50% or more of the staff.
Focus turnaround reform efforts on school-wide, research-based approaches.
We know that reforming the current high-stakes testing system will take time and political capital, but we believe that it is not only possible but also imperative if we want to improve the lives of all children and ensure their future success. Given the recent unprecedented attention focused on problems with current testing practice, this is exactly the right time to transform recommendations into reality. Therefore, we make ourselves available to the BESE to assist in these efforts in whatever ways are necessary.
Such an inspiring and thought provoking effort from NYS and MA educators and concerned community members. I hope you will join me in signing in support of the NY Principals Letter and share it in order to educate and help push the refusal momementum through the 2014-15 academic year. With educators and parents working together to refuse the tests, we can prorect our children from state sanctioned harm.
We will be utterly unstoppable.