Monday, April 4, 2016

On the Eve of ELA Standardized Tests: A Message to Dr. Cash

Dr. Cash, as we approach the administration of the ELA tests tomorrow, I understand the District's position and that of many principals and teachers with respect to their support for the tests and their encouragement of student's involvement in those assessments.  You also know my position and reasons why I oppose the tests.  Nonetheless I do believe that each position should be acknowledged and the right to hold that view should be respected.  Certainly the issue has been the subject of heated dialogue between adults. In the last few days a number of parents have written to the Board and to you to express their positions on both sides.  In a number of instances I have not seen indication that the District has responded to those parents.   

I am very concerned, however, that students are being caught in the cross fire and I hope that you will acknowledge that this issue is problematic.  And that you will inform principals, especially those who seem to have taken an over-zealous approach in their support of the tests, of their responsibility as educators to be informative not suggestive or coercive.  Students as well as adults are hearing these messages.

Here are two examples of messages sent by principals to their parents/guardians and students prior to the beginning of the ELA exams.  I’ll leave you to determine which I find more acceptable.

1)  (1)  Good Evening Families,

NYS ELA Assessments will take place this week on Tuesday, April 5, Wednesday, April 6, and Thursday, April 7.  Please ensure that your child is well rested and arrives to school by 8:15 AM.  We look forward to all students applying the skills and concepts they learned this year at X.  Have a great night!

The following excerpt is part of a much longer letter, but is reflective of a clear effort to persuade parents that “opt out” is misguided.  Certainly free speech can be invoked here and I’m fine with that but there are inaccuracies in these statements even as the writer characterizes the other arguments as flawed.  For example, “this year’s assessments have not been developed by a new organization.  This year’s tests were developed by Pearson. Questar, Inc. will not be providing tests until next year.

2)  (2)  “Student refusal of the New York State assessments has historically been low at X. This year we have seen even less activity around this topic, and I believe most parents understand that our new Commissioner of Education, Dr. Mary Ellen Elia, has made aggressive changes to the assessments to satisfy both labor and student-centered concerns. However, several of the written parent communications that we have received to this point reflect outdated or incorrect information that appears to have been derived from templates found on social media. I would like to provide the following clarifications: • New York State Assessments are no longer tied to teacher and principal evaluations. • The state has done away with the previous assessments given to students over the past few years. This year’s assessments have been developed by a new organization, with New York State teachers selecting the questions. • The number of questions and predicted time to complete the assessments has been reduced again this year. • Perhaps my favorite change -- students will have unlimited time to complete the assessments (as a student who needed more time, I can tell you I would have benefitted greatly from this feature if they had it back when I was taking the old California Achievement tests in elementary school!"

I have received information that some principals are/have planned "rallies" for students to opt in to the tests.  Parties, special events or other "rewards" may be offered to students for their participation while denying the students who opted out access to the same benefits.  Such inequitable activities are hurtful to children and I certainly encourage you sending a strong message that these kinds of incentives are unacceptable.

I also am concerned about any public displays of student performance on these tests, especially if they have identifying information.  I think that's a violation of student's privacy and exposes a student to ridicule and humiliation.  Even if this only applies to one school, it's one too many.

Students who are not taking the tests, have not opted out, their parents have opted them out.  That's their right and I question the right of a principal to “talk anyone out” of making that decision.

In your letter to parents regarding how students will be treated, who are not taking the tests, you stated that “Students with notes on file prior to the start of the assessment will not be given examination booklets and will be allowed to read quietly while the test is being administered.”  While the Board has endorsed eliminating the “sit and stare” policy, we will need to develop a policy that specifically spells out the treatment for students who do not take the test.  I would like to put this policy on the agenda for the Executive Committee at its next meeting so that we have a definitive plan for future test situations.

As always, I appreciate your receptiveness to dissenting opinions and your focused commitment to the children.


No comments:

Post a Comment