This week’s column offers an update on several hot button issues that I’ve written about this year:
Opt Out - Over the last few weeks the subject of high stakes standardized (NYS ELA and Math) tests and the Opt Out Movement has occupied much of my thought, actions and writings. As of last Friday, those tests have come and gone, but the debate continues. However, this week I won’t dwell solely on the arguments opposing these “meaningless” tests (the Governor’s word, not mine although I agree with him). I also want to update readers on a few related issues of note.
Last week I recounted some of the reports I received from parents and teachers about the strategies being used to convince, cajole or intimidate parents, students and even educators into “opting in” to these tests. Unfortunately, we were not unique as similar incidents occurred all over the state. It’s a sad state of affairs when educators either buy into or are forced into supporting a system that promotes activities counter to sound educational practices, violate parents’ rights and foster intimidation of students by the adults, who should be their role models. To be fair, many educators did speak up to support parents and students in spite of the bureaucracy and threats of retaliation.
Last year, nearly 240,000 or 20% of New York State’s student population opted out of the tests. The numbers are not all in, but indications are that this number will hold steady and may even increase this year. In the meantime, advocates are raising a number of important questions about the tests and the changes the Commissioner said would improve them. The New York State Education Department supposedly operates on data, which it uses to make decisions re: policy for example. The Department had a number of opportunities to collect important axillary data related to test administration.
1) How are the test results impacted by children who “opt in” to the tests but are absent one or more days during the testing cycle (the ELA and Math tests are offered during a three day period); so how are the tests scored? Do those children receive a proficiency ranking? And how are the results factored into the final accountability statistics for each school? And consequently for a District? How will the accountability of schools and Districts that exceeded 5% opt outs be impacted?
2) This is the first year the tests are not timed; in other words students were able to take all the time they needed to complete the exams. And some did; reports are that some students worked ALL day, e.g. from the beginning of school until the end of the school day. What is the impact of removing the time limits? Will that improve test performance in general? The timed tests were 90 minutes, however what was the average time taken by students to complete the tests? What was the impact on staff time to monitor the tests?
How will the Department collect, analyze and employ this data? There are concerns, however that the Department did not collect any data associated with question two, specifically. We’ll see when the report on the test results is released, perhaps in August.
Disparate use of ELA/Math Tests Results in Admissions Criteria for City Honors/Olmsted – This is an issue I’ve been addressing since last December. The ELA/Math tests are part of the admissions criteria for these schools. Students whose parents opted out of these tests in 2015 and applied for City Honors or Olmsted were given a score of zero out a potential maximum of 9 points. After extensive questioning of District Staff, Dr. Keresztes disclosed that applicants from private schools, which do not give the ELA/Math tests, did not receive a zero for this missing score. Instead the administration doubled their score from the cognitive test, a practice which has been going on for some time. This inequitable treatment of Buffalo Schools’ student applicants to the criterion schools as documented is unacceptable. The Superintendent agreed to develop a remedy for this problem, which impacts 95 Buffalo School students. After more than two weeks, we are still waiting for a resolution. Parents are concerned and they are impatient. And so am I. All students deserve to be treated fairly. This situation must be resolved immediately.
The School Board Candidate’s Debate or One out of Two Is Bad – On Tuesday, April 12th, the Buffalo Association of Black Journalists held a candidate’s debate at the Burchfield Penny Gallery. Only the candidates from the Central and East Districts were fully represented. With the exception of Dr. Harris-Tigg and Ms. Belton Cottman, none of the incumbents showed up. It’s worth noting also that Ms. Belton Cottman is running un-opposed. Debates offer an opportunity for candidates to (re)introduce themselves to the community, state their experience and competencies to fill the position, expound on their core issues, and differentiate themselves from their opponents. This was the first general debate. Future debates are scheduled and one would hope that all candidates will engage in these events. School Board member is an elected position and as such voters have the right to expect that all candidates, including the incumbents, will honor the system and provide their constituents with comprehensive, which includes face-to-face, information so voters can make an informed decision.