"OPTING OUT" DOMINATES DISCUSSION FOLLOWING NSPAC'S SCREENING OF STANDARDIZED
March 31, 2014 -- The North Shore Parent's Action Committee (NSPAC) hosted a screening of the documentary Standardized: Lies, Money, & Civil Rights: How Testing Is Ruining Public Education at the high school this past Tuesday evening. During the discussion that followed, there appeared to be general agreement that the tests were harmful and that the system was in need of reform, but differing opinions with regard to what tactics to use in pushing for those changes.
The film is an indictment of the high stakes standardized testing policies that have been adopted by states across the country in recent years. The parents and educators interviewed in the film assert that the assessments are undermining public education, as schools abandon teaching methodologies that promote creativity and critical thinking in favor of test prep pep rallies, and public money is diverted into the coffers of the charter school industry, test making corporations, and data storage companies like inBloom. Hurt the most are low-income and minority students whose neighborhood public schools are shuttered as big city mayors like New York's Michael Bloomberg and Chicago's Rahm Emanuel, declare them failing, and charter schools, with the authority to admit and exclude students, take their place. Meanwhile, corporations in the test development, data-storage, and charter school industries are the big winners, reaping billions of dollars worth of contracts nation-wide.
What feeds this beast, the film seems to assert, is data from often poorly constructed tests that are used to evaluate the effectiveness of both teachers and schools, who are powerless to change the system. Therefore, Standardized concludes, the responsibility to effect change lies in the hands of parents, who can apply pressure on policy makers through a variety of means, including "opting out" or boycotting the exams, thereby depriving state education departments the data that drives the system.
Predictably, "opting out" dominated the post-film discussion.
Eileen Stanton of NSPAC weighed in on the issue saying that while she believed "opting out" of the exams was a personal decision, NSPAC did not support that approach, but rather more "traditional" methods of pushing for reform.
Later, in response to an invitation for further comment from Northwordnews, Ms. Stanton said that "the traditional route of causing change has begun to take root. In encouraging more of the same by pushing for changes in legislation, encouraging more appropriate student and teacher evaluations and insisting that educators be involved in the processes still has the chance of impacting change!!"
"NSPAC is ultimately looking for a sensible solution to testing" She continued. "Perhaps going back to more responsible testing the way it used to be. Testing has its place in education. When testing was done for purposes of broad evaluation done in 4th and 8th grades, the results were used as an additional source of information to evaluate a student. Now, with testing done every year, results of the tests not being shared with teachers, teacher evaluations dependent on the students score and the costs of testing put to the district tax payers, it just seems wrong."
Schools Superintendent, Dr. Melnick said that he believed Albany did not want to hear from teachers and Superintendents on the issue of testing, and therefore reform could only come about as a result of pressure from parents. He explained, however, that he strongly opposes "opting out," as he believes it could be interpreted by some students to mean that one could opt out of their other tests, simply because they did not want to take them. He recommended that parents encourage their kids to "do the best you can and don't worry about it, don't stress out about it."
He said that "parents did need to make noise," to pressure the state to reform some of its policies.
Later, in response to a question concerning the consequences of "opting out," the Superintendent said that if at least 95% of students did not take the test for two consecutive years, the school would be designated "in need of review," thereby requiring the district to submit a corrective action plan to the state. With regard to teacher evaluations, it would shrink the size of the testing sample, and, depending on which students opted out, could affect a teacher's score on the state assessment portion of his or her Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). Additionally, he explained that if a child has a "gap" in reading or math and would have qualified for Academic Intervention Services (AIS) as a result of receiving a "1" on the state test, that child, having opted out, would not receive those services "because the district does not have the resources for it." Upon questioning by a parent, he said that he did not necessarily mean that the district would not provide remediation services for a student who is struggling, but that it was dependent on resources available and that the district has to "go by the law and the mandated services first."
With regard to the state tests in general, the Superintendent explained that he believed that they are a reality that students will have to deal with, but that the district would seek to minimize their impact on North Shore's educational program, and that under the Teacher evaluation system, he would not allow test scores alone to result in a teacher receiving an "ineffective" or "developing" rating. He said the district has sent the message to the teachers, that "we have their back." He said he supported less frequent testing and encouraged parents to "look beyond the test" and make sure that their kids were being challenged on a daily basis. He explained that the district was working towards developing alternative authentic assessments that would evaluate desirable outcomes such as critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration.
In his remarks, School Board President Dr. Herman Berliner, emphasized the importance of local control over education. He criticized the roll-out of the common core learning standards and the state's testing policies, saying that "New York has failed abysmally in moving education forward and providing the sort of environment that is positive and that really stimulates students learning." He said however, that assessments are necessary. While certain outcomes may not be measurable, he said, "we should be able to determine what a student learns as a result of his or her education." There has to be "responsible testing," he said. "There needs to be a proper balance."
While Ms. Stanton and Dr. Melnick rejected "opting out," as a tactic, some in the audience expressed strong support for the approach.
One parent stated that when a law is harmful to children and their education, that "not only is it our right, but it is our responsibility" not to follow it.
A Glen Cove resident who attended the screening compared "opting out" to the tactics Martin Luther King Jr. used in his efforts to end unjust segregation laws.
Another parent, said that testing and test preparation has had such a negative impact on children's education, that parents need to send the strongest message possible, and that "opting out sends that strong message."
It remains to be seen how many parents will choose to opt their children out of the exam this week. At the time of Tuesday's meeting, Dr. Melnick said that the district had been notified by the parents of twelve students that they would not be sitting for the exam.
For more information about NSPAC, their e-mail address is NSPACcommunity@gmail.com.
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