Sunday, March 20, 2016

To Test or Not to Test? That is the Question!

To test or not to test?  Actually, for hundreds of thousands of children across the State the answer is a resounding, NO!  Parents continue to refuse the “opportunity” for their children to be subjected to standardized tests in English Language Arts and Math that do nothing to enhance their educational experience.   Instead, for many children these tests cause extreme anxiety, crisis of self-confidence and even physical distress.  And for students in urban districts, in particular, these one size fits all tests unfairly label children as failures and are a major determinant used to identify schools as “struggling” or “persistently struggling” – and for Receivership.

In December, the Governor’s Common Core Task Force recognized that these “high stakes” tests were flawed.  They recommended that the results of the tests, starting with their implementation in 2014 until 2019, not be used for student placement or evaluation decisions.  In addition, recommendations to change a number of current testing procedures were quickly adopted by the New York State Regents.  Yet, in April, the State will again subject students to these meaningless assessments – e.g. they are not diagnostic; they have encouraged teaching to the test consuming time better spent on other educational experiences, such as time for art and music; they are not developmentally appropriate for  the grade level and more.

In spite of the findings/recommendations of the Task Force, State Education Commissioner Elia, who was a member of the Task Force, continues to promote these tests.  Commissioner Elia defends her position by citing that the Federal government mandates that States test all children.  However, she also does not support the Opt Out Movement.  She notes that new tests are being developed and that this year significant changes are being made to the old tests to make them less onerous.  She has urged parents to allow their children to take the tests, noting that the tests have been shortened.  She’s neglected to mention that only two or three questions were removed.  And while children will be allowed to take as much time to take the tests as needed, it’s important to note that the latter is dependent upon the proviso that the student demonstrates that he/she is working “productively”.  In any event, children will sit from 4-6 hours during the testing sessions. The bottom line is that little has changed in the State’s primary goal:  to have all children participate in a standardized testing program that does not measure the diverse abilities of test takers nor provide constructive educational data benefiting students.

The ELA Tests are principally made up of long reading passages.  The paragraphs in the articles are numbered and students are given multiple choice questions or are asked to write short answer responses.  The multiple choice questions give four possible answers.  Students need to reference the article in order to provide their answer.  Educators, who have evaluated the reading level of these passages, have found them to be two to three grade levels above the level of the students being tested.
The Math tests combine word problems along with questions based on charts, graphs and other visuals.  In 2014, I wrote a column entitled, “Are you smarter than a third grader”, in which I provided a sample question from that year’s Math test.  

The following is a sample from the 2015 Math Test for 3rd. grade.

Pedro left home this morning at the time shown on the clock below. Tina left home 20 minutes after Pedro left. Carlos left home 18 minutes after Tina left. At what time did Carlos leave home this morning?

 A  7:57 a.m.
B   8:13 a.m.
C   8:38 a.m.
D   9:13 a.m.

 In case you’re not sure, the correct answer is D.  Remember the 2015 test was timed and almost every child in 3rd. grade, even if they were limited English speakers or had a special disability was given this test.  Only 48% of children statewide answered this question correctly.
As a school board member and educator, I have followed the high stakes testing debate.   I am a proponent of the Opt-Out Movement.    My support has developed over time and resulted from research, reflection and discussions with advocates.  However, belief is not enough if it isn’t married with action, when warranted.  Backing the test refusal movement extends beyond my formal role to my role as a grandmother.  I have two granddaughters who attend a focus school.  After care consideration and study, and with my support, my daughter refused the test for her oldest daughter last year.  This year, as a fourth grader, she will again refuse the test.

I urge readers to take a look at these tests in order to make a firsthand assessment about the suitability of the ELA and the Math exams for all children, not just children of color. This year’s exams will be given on April 5-7 (ELA) and April 13-15 (Math). The State Education Department released a sampling of the 2015 tests in August and you can find these questions and rationales used for grading each test at

You can also join us for a Community Forum on “Common Core State Testing and Curriculum”.  This Forum, on Saturday, April 2, 2016 will feature Principal Jamaal Bowman, the dynamic leader of the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action, a public school in the Bronx.  Principal Bowman will speak on his experience teaching to the whole child and not to the tests and the impact this has on children, learning and their emotional and physical development.  This Forum will be held at the Merriweather Library beginning at 11:00am. Please join us.

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