Tag Archives: No Child Left Behind

Who Are the Opt Out Parents? Why Has The Movement Accelerated So Quickly? What is the Future and the Impact?

This week kids in grades three through eight in New York State will begin taking federally mandated tests that are used to assess school progress, or, lack thereof. The results can be used to transform, redesign or close schools and layoff teachers, or, reward schools and teachers with additional dollars.  Many parents will opt to have their kids skip the tests.

In the years ahead sociologists, political scientists and doctoral candidates will explore the phenomenon of opt out parents.

The parents of one in five students opted their children out of taking state tests last year; tests that were routinely administered for a dozen years.

Tests are deeply embedded in history; Chinese Imperial examinations  originated in the Han Dynasty and the system spread to other Asian nations.

…  the exams were based on knowledge of the classics and literary style, not technical expertise, successful candidates were generalists who shared a common language and culture, one shared even by those who failed. This common culture helped to unify the empire and the ideal of achievement by merit gave legitimacy to imperial rule.

While the Imperial exams ended in 1905 the respect for education and an exam system is alive and well. Stuyvesant High School, an elite high school in New York City that requires a rigorous entrance examination, is overwhelmingly Asian. The school is 72% Asian and less than 1% Black.

No one opt outs of the bar exam.

The passage of the New York Bar Exam is required to practice law in New York State – in 2015 79% of test takers passed, the lowest percent in a decade. The Bar Exam has been frequently criticized,

For too long the unregulated monopoly of the testing industry has masqueraded as the self-appointed guardian of professional standards.

Many argue that a student’s GPA is a far better indicator of knowledge than the score on a bar exam; however, the bar exam remains the essential credential required for the practice of law.

Prior to the 2002 No Child Left Behind law all students in grade 4 and 8 took English and Math exams, the city also gave exams as did school districts.

The state exams school scores were published in major newspapers and schools with declining scores faced close scrutiny. In the late eighties the Board of Education began to close low performing schools and create replacement small high schools. The staffs in the closed schools could apply for positions in the successor schools or choose to be excessed to a cluster of schools of their choice.

For a decade every student in grade 4 through 8 took the required English and Math tests, I never knew that there was the possibility of opting out. If the participation rate in the school and in sub-groups in the school were lower than 95% the school faced undefined sanctions.

Teachers have been arguing that the annual testing regimen is simply unnecessary.

Standardized tests are unnecessary because they rarely show what we don’t already know. Ask any teacher and she can tell you which students can read and write.

On the other hand the civil rights community avers that annual testing, especially of the poorest children, children of color and children with disabilities is essential. Wade Henderson, the President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights testified at a congressional hearing on the reauthorization of ESEA,

Federal investments are unlikely to result in meaningful gains unless they are accompanied by unequivocal demands for higher achievement, higher graduation rates, and substantial closing of achievement gaps … … This is why it is so important that ESEA continue to include strong requirements for assessments and accountability … Accountability is a core civil rights principle …

…high quality, statewide annual assessments are needed. It is imperative that parents, teachers, school leaders, public officials and the public have objective, unbiased information on how their students are performing. ESEA must continue to require annual, statewide, assessments for all students (in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school) that are aligned with, and measure each student’s progress toward meeting the state’s college and career readiness standards.

The civil rights community strongly supports the continuation of annual tests and the newly passed ESSA law continues annual testing.

With the administration of the 2015 round of testing the opt out movement exploded across New York State as well as in other states: what changed?

Who are the opt outs?

The parents choosing to opt out are in suburban, white, higher achieving schools as well a small number of white, higher income, higher achieving schools in New York City.

What triggered the opt out wave?

The NYS Commissioner of Education John King imposed Common Core state exams, the seventy plus percent proficiency scores on the previous tests nosedived to thirty plus percent proficiency rates.  2/3 of students “passing” suddenly became 2/3 of children “failing.” As parent outrage bubbled over King decided to go on a listening tour – first stop: Poughkeepsie. The raucous meeting  was a disaster (Watch highlights here) and the commissioner canceled his listening tour and blamed outside agitators.

Why the passion and the anger?

An Afro-American commissioner who was in his thirties, who sent his children to a private school was telling parents that their kids were failures; was telling parents that superintendents, principals and teachers, who they liked and trusted were failing their children.  I believe parents felt disrespected, their parenting skills were being challenged.  The pent-up anger exploded.

Did the frustration over the perceived failures of government trigger the anger? Why should dysfunctional politicians in Washington or Albany tell us how to run our schools? Why should they be able to brand our children as failures? And, by the way, will these tests prevent our kids from getting into the college of their choice? Just as many in the electorate blame Wall Street and the banks for the economic ills of the nation was the vast testing industry manipulating policy to enrich themselves?

How does the Opt Out movement impact politics?

The opt out parents are not Republicans or Democrats – they are simply anti-testing, and, testing is beyond the ability of local or state electeds to impact. A frustrated state elected official asked me, “Is there a bill number? How do I satisfy these parents?” The governor, after aggressively interfering in education has backed away, the Democratic leader of the Assembly has passed the baton to new members of the Board of Regents.

So far, opting out has had no consequences, the feds have ignored the fact that schools in New York State are below the required 95% participation rate.

Will the opt out movement continue to build momentum, or fade away?  Will the feds accept competency-based testing (CBE) as “annual testing”? While the exams are required will the opt outs make the exams de facto voluntary?

The test results will be available in July, numbers of opt outs probably in June.

The “No Stakes” Testing Shell Game Begins: How Can We Use Tests To Improve Teaching and Learning, not, to Flail and Fail?

In a recent letter to school superintendents, John B. King Jr., the state’s education commissioner, discouraged administrators from making placement and promotion decisions based solely on the tests. Speaking by telephone last week, Dr. King told me, “I worry that there’s a pedagogical mistake made in believing that if there’s more test prep, students will do better on the test.” … (Gina Bellafante, New York Times, March 28, 2014 )

A “pedagogical mistake?”

Over a dozen years the Bloomberg administration closed 150 schools based on poor test scores. The de Blasio administration has already retreated from their anti-charter school ideas, not to focus on test scores is foolish, the commissioner’s dismissal of test prep is simply a sign of his disconnect from the realities of life in schools in the world of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

Test scores drive school closings, tenure decisions, promotion decisions, attracting students and just plain ego … our kids “doing better” is an affirmation of our teaching skills.

New York State raced to the front of the line and decided to switch to Common Core tests without any substantive professional development, with results that should not have been surprising.

Commissioner King tried to forewarn parents, the scores were not terrible and we should look at the scores as a new beginning.

“These proficiency scores do not reflect a drop in performance, but rather a raising of standards to reflect college and career readiness in the 21st century,” King said. “I understand these scores are sobering for parents, teachers, and principals. It’s frustrating to see our children struggle. But we can’t allow ourselves to be paralyzed by frustration; we must be energized by this opportunity. The results we’ve announced today are not a critique of past efforts; they’re a new starting point on a roadmap to future success.”

The scores were terrible, in fact, appalling, two-thirds of students across the state failed the tests and subgroup passing rates were considerably more distressing.

31.1% of grade 3-8 students across the State met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 31% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• The ELA proficiency results for race/ethnicity groups across grades 3-8 reveal the persistence of the achievement gap: only 16.1% of African-American students and 17.7% of Hispanic students met or exceeded the proficiency standard
• 3.2% of English Language Learners (ELLs) in grades 3-8 met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 9.8% of ELLs met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
• 5% of students with disabilities met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 7% of students with disabilities met or exceeded the math proficiency standard

The commissioner created a tsunami led by suburban parents and parents from middle class neighborhoods in the cities pushed back, the pushback grew and grew. Over 55,000 viewers clicked on a U-Tube of King’s dismal performance in Poughkeepsie.

As parents met and advocated and threatened their electeds the legislature began to wriggle in their seats. The Board of Regents hastily passed a lengthy resolution slowing the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, however, moving ahead with the tests.

The resolution did not the assuage parent outrage; the governor appointed a task force that quickly released a number of tepid recommendations.

In the scramble to complete a budget a jumble of ideas to mollify parents was included in the budget

The governor’s website describes the changes in law,

The Budget puts into law a series of recommendations to immediately improve the implementation of the Common Core in New York State, including banning standardized “bubble tests” for young children, protecting students from high stakes testing based on unfair results, ensuring instructional time is used for teaching and learning and not over-testing, and protecting the privacy of students.

The 2014 tests, for students, would be a “no stakes” test; the tests alone cannot be used for promotion decisions. To summarize Deputy Commissioner Ken Wagner, a “2” is the new “3.” Wagner describes a grade of “2” as “partial proficiency,” sort of a “partial pregnancy.”

Deputy Commissioner Ken Wagner has been emphasizing that no students “fail” the state tests. Students are graded on a 1-4 scale, with a 3 or 4 indicating that a student is “proficient” in a subject. A 2 or 1 have long been understood to mean that a student had failed and needed remediation. “Level 2 does not indicate failure,” Wagner said. “It demonstrates that a student is demonstrating partial proficiency.”

South Orangetown Superintendent Ken Mitchell, president of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents, called the redefinition of a 2 “Orwellian” and “a bureaucratic attempt to relieve political pressure from a public that is awakening.”

Orwellian is an excellent term. (Wikipedia definition – The encouragement of “doublethink”, whereby the population must learn to embrace inconsistent concepts without dissent, the revision of history in the favor of the State’s interpretation of it).

As I understand the new law, Common Core State Standards test scores have no impact on kids; however, they have full impact on schools, principals and teachers, and, oh yes, we should abjure test prep. Why would anyone fail to practice, especially if the end game was a high-stakes single event?

David Epstein in “The Sport’s Gene” explores the intersection of talent and practice, “Could … grit and determination overcome … lack of innate ability? Where does the intersection between talent and practice lie?”

State Ed, with a disclaimer, provides sample questions, you better believe teachers are going to integrate practice, aka, test prep, into their lessons. (See sample 8th grade ELA questions here). A few years down the road, unless sensibility intervenes, the state will adopt the PARCC tests, tests that measure achievement in the 26 states in the consortium, pretty close to a national exam. (See the sample 8th grade PARCC questions here).

The commissioner doesn’t seem to understand; as long as tests are the measurement of “principal/teacher effectiveness” the lead up to the tests will include practice, crafting lessons that enable students to master the tests. To make the task even more difficult the state tests are not based on a curriculum, the CCSS tests reflect the skills embedded in the standards (CCSS). The state has begun to release “voluntary” curriculum modules; teachers find the state produced modules, to be polite, “unwieldy.” (See Grade 8 ELA curriculum map here).

Ideally, students would produce artifacts, examples of a range of student work reflecting the standards, For example, one of the anchor standards in writing,

Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

In the current world of George Orwell the state, or PARCC, will create multiple choice questions or a “structured” response to measure the extent the student has mastered the standard, absent a “content-rich curriculum.”

Tests should inform instruction, and by “tests” I mean student work, teacher-constructed tests, a range of tasks similar to the assessments used in the Performance-Based Assessment Consortium.

The current teacher evaluation law in New York State is a charade – only 1% of teachers scored an ineffective grade in the 12-13 school year.

Linda Darling-Hammond describes a totally different system that both assists teachers as well as leading to a summative assessment. (See Linda Darling-Hammond, One Piece of the Whole: Teacher Evaluation as Part of a Comprehensive System for Teaching and Learning, in the current issue of the American Educator).

Parents are still outraged, principals and teachers feel abused, kids are nervous, maybe it’s time for a close look at where we’re going and what we’re doing, maybe time for a “restart.”