On April 5th, 6th, and 7th, 14,984 Buffalo school students in grades 3-8 were “offered” the first of two high stakes, New York State standardized tests; the English Language Arts. In the event anyone does not believe that these tests are high stakes, consider the following:
· A week before the test was given, New York State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia made a high profile visit to the area. On the first day, she visited several schools in Districts that had high opt out numbers last year, met with parents and educators to convey her message that she’d heard their concerns, explained that the tests had been improved and that parents should trust and have confidence in the tests’ value as educational markers of high standards.
· - On the second day, the Commissioner visited two “persistently struggling” schools in Buffalo. Presumably she got an update on the schools’ progress, commended staff and students and urged them to take the tests.
· - She met with the Buffalo News Editorial Board, which dutifully reported on the Commissioner’s sincerity, underscored her message (she’s trying to improve the tests) and the need to stay the course, e.g. keep Common Core, keep the tests and keep Buffalo’s schools in receivership even the ten schools that have successfully earned removal from the receivership rolls.
· - Furthermore, the BN, aka Biased News, published no less than five articles, editorials and opinion pieces stressing the misguided logic and futility of the Opt-out Movement. In typical propaganda-ist style the articles extolled the “benefits” of the tests and the rationale for subjecting children to take them. These articles rarely provided objective views that acknowledged the arguments opposing these high stakes exams.
· - Today the BN published an article that blames Gen-X parents for the Opt Out movement citing this generation as “independent, cynical and defiant of authority”. You have to read it to believe it!
· Business First decided to one-up the BN in an article, citing their own data analysis, which maliciously labeled WNY students and claimed that “The opt-out movement”…..” largely seems to be a revolt of underachievers”.
According to the BPS District the parents of 1,089, 7.8%, far below suburban opt out, refused to have their children subjected to these tests. While the Commissioner has affirmed a parent’s right to make educational decisions in the best interests of their children, the reality is that it’s an entitlement with a hollow resonance. I received numerous calls and emails from parents, educators and others about actions by school officials to obstruct or undermine parents’ decisions about test refusal.
In some schools an active campaign to “talk parents out” of refusing the tests was underway even as testing was in progress. This is not an unsubstantiated report as a number of District administrators confirmed (one in a radio interview) they have engaged in ongoing communications to convince parents that they are mis-informed about the tests and/or students to take the tests. There were also disturbing reports that students were told they would jeopardize their high school options if they didn’t take the tests. In fact prior to the tests, parents were sent a letter from the Superintendent that included an admonition that opting out will adversely impact a child’s ability to get into a City Honors or Olmsted. These criterion schools use the ELA/Math scores in their admissions criteria and opt out students will lose points. Other concerns communicated to me included:
- · Opt out students were singled out and ridiculed because they were opting out of the test
- · Threats to punish opt out students by not letting them participate in special events that are incentives/rewards for good behavior
- · Teachers from several schools reported children getting sick to their stomach and having “melt-downs” in response to the testing
- · Opt-in rallies were held that could be construed as either pressuring or encouraging students to participate in testing;
- · Parents were called even after their opt out letters were sent in to convince them to retract their letters
- · A high school principal is on the record having sent a letter to parents, which contained numerous distortions of the facts regarding the standardized tests; and tacitly belittled students whose parents opted them out of the tests
- · Some teachers, who had opt out students have felt intimidated by their administration
- · Test anxiety is felt by staff as well as students
- · A parent believed that her 3rd grader had been bullied into taking the test. Even though her parent had opted her out, the student was “talked” into taking the test by her teacher
- · In spite of a directive sent to schools to allow opt out students to read selected materials, students at some schools were required to complete an ELA packet
- · A number of schools are to be commended for treating opt out students with respect, recognizing that the decision was made by the parents, not the students. In those schools students were allowed to read per the Superintendent’s directive.
- · One parent was upset that her children, who opted in and took the tests, were required to sit and stare when they finished the test because other children took more time. Her child waited for 90 minutes after he’d finished his test
A call to Superintendent Cash to share this feedback resulted in a letter from him to all administrators. The letter reiterated that all students should be treated with “dignity and consistency whether they are participating in test administration or not.” The time differentiation will be worked out too.
Some will read this article and conclude that the examples of the experiences of some test refusal parents/students is one-sided; or that it is not valid because I didn’t name names. I am reporting the feedback I received this past week. Unfortunately, there is a concern about backlash and people are reluctant to allow their names to be shared. I invite anyone to provide feedback, both positive and negative, to me. This coming week the Math tests will be offered and I’d like to receive feedback as well. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org