OPTING OUT THE BEST WAY TO BRING ABOUT TESTING REFORM SAYS NORTH SHORE TEACHERS UNION
April 3, 2016 -- This past Thursday evening, the North Shore Schools Federated Employees, the union that represents the district’s teachers, sponsored an informational session at which parents had the opportunity to ask questions concerning changes to the New York State Common Core assessments that will be administered to students in grades 3 through 8 starting this upcoming week, and whether is was desirable to opt their children out of the exams. The previous week, the union had sent out a mailer expressing the organization’s support for boycotting the tests. About 40% of students in the district refused the exams last year - about the same percentage that did so across Long Island.
Union president Greg Perles presided over the meeting, and a few district teachers were also on hand to offer their thoughts on state testing reforms and to respond to parents questions and comments.
Last year’s boycott, Mr. Perles said, was very effective in pushing the New York State Education Department to rethink its testing and teacher evaluation policies. And, although NYSED has adopted some changes for the upcoming administration of the exam, such as the elimination of time limits and a moratorium on using the exams to evaluate teacher performance until 2019, no changes have been made to law.
Teachers who spoke this past Thursday asserted that the exams remain educationally harmful to students, thus warranting a continuation of the boycott.
The tests, they said, are not age appropriate; that the six days of testing and time teachers across the state devote to prepping for the exam takes valuable time away from meaningful learning opportunities and experiences; and, that the testing regimen that begins at grade three has contributed greatly to many young elementary students experiencing significant and unhealthy levels of anxiety.
“These tests have nothing to do with what quality education in the classroom looks like,” said Carolyn Genovesi, who had served on the School Board for nearly a decade until 2013. “Even the new Chancellor [Betty Rosa] of the Board of Regents has said if she had children taking the tests she would opt them out. They are developmentally inappropriate and are potentially damaging.”
Mr. Perles agreed and added that the tests themselves are flawed, and as a result any data derived from them flawed as well. He emphasized, however, that the teacher’s union is not opposed to accountability or evaluations - “just not one’s based on flawed data.”
“It’s not appropriate for a 3rd grader to have to deal with these pressures, said Brian Lang, a middle school biology teacher and a Vice President of the teacher’s union.
A district elementary school teacher added that “it is not necessary or appropriate to prepare third graders for high school. I don’t think we should be focused on making sure kindergartners are ‘college and career ready.’ Meaningful educational activities are being pushed out of the classroom.” She continued that under the Common Core learning standards, third graders were given passages that had been previously used in middle school.
Asked by a parent if the teacher’s “goal was to eliminate tests altogether,” the teacher replied that it was not. “Developmentally appropriate tests I wouldn’t have a problem with,” she said.
A parent said that she had noticed a major difference in how her younger child had been taught compared to her older one, with the older one, she believes, having had a richer elementary school education with more hands-on experiential learning activities that included classroom science experiments, and social studies projects.
Another parent said that she feared her child, as a result, would lose his interest in school.
The state is “pitting meaningful learning and teaching against each other, when they should be the same thing,” Mr. Perlis said.
“The only way to address this to opt out,” a parent said. “I feel as if my voice has been taken away.”
Not all parents in attendance however supported opting out, even if they did not approve of the tests.
“I’ve never considered opting out,” said one. “My kids do fine and they don’t stress over it. At some point kids need to take tests. I’m concerned I’d be taking something away from my kids if I opted them out.”
Mr. Lang replied that kids still will take tests such as the Regents when they are in eighth grade and in high school and that there was plenty of time to get accustomed to taking standardized tests then.
“I don’t want to teach my child the habit that it is ok to not take a test,” the parent explained.
She added however that she did not think the tests were developmentally appropriate. “I want to support teachers,” she said. “Can we write letters?”
“By having your child take the test, you are not being disrespectful to your child’s teacher,” Mr. Perles replied. “We took this position as a union, but we are not the parent of your child. You should do what you think is best for your child. . . . Your advocacy would be useful - to say ‘just because our kids are taking the test doesn’t mean we agree with it.’”
However, Mr. Perles said that he believed opting out was the best approach to bringing about change. “Dr. [Martin Luther] King said ‘no one’s free when others aren’t.’ Opting in perpetuates the status quo; opting out challenges the status quo. It will give people in power pause to reflect and shift to moving towards a healthier place for kids. We need to create movement rather than perpetuate the status quo.”
On Wednesday, April 6, the North Shore Schools Federated Employees is co-sponsoring a forum with the Locust Valley teachers union, the North Shore Political Action Committee and other organizations at the Locust Valley Library. The event will begin at 7 pm, and feature Dr. Michael Hynes, Superintendent Patchogue-Medford School District; Dr. Joseph Rella, Superintendent Comsewogue School District; Jeanette Deutermann, Education Advocate, Co-Founder of NYSAPE & Long Island Opt Out; Maribel Padin-Canestro, Public Schools Parent Advocate, Founder Opt Out Espanol National and Bonnie Buckley, Parent, Teacher, Special Education Advocate.
Article by Northwordnews
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