Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Principal Lies to Parent Regarding Opting Out

I mentioned the stress it placed on my son, along with the fact that the teacher evals were tied to scores. "Oh my  gosh, so are you from the union? You sound as if you're making an argument for the teacher's union!" -- NYC parent in convo with principal re: opting out
As angry as I was before, seeing the tests today (which we are not allowed to quote in any way) has sent me over the edge! I haven't even read all of them yet but the fifth grade test is unbelievable. Easy reading selections and lots of trick questions--more than I have ever seen before--that are absolutely no indication of any kind of 5th grade level reading comprehension. My APs and I can't even figure out what answer they are looking for in some questions! I think we absolutely need to fight that these tests be made public. People will be shocked to see them.  --- NYC Principal
Ahhh, the high stakes testing game is bringing out lots of people who were not activists before. Over 30 years I have battled against HST that began with a principal in 1979 forcing them down our throats and forcing me out of the classroom that I loved so much. The UFT support for HST was one of the issues that broke me with Randi --- I won't go into details now. The forces are growing amongst parents and teachers while the UFT/AFT as an org stays out of the battle- other than issuing a lame statement every so often.

I haven't had time to address the amazing group of parents who have sprung up around the opting out of the test issue, led by the people involved in the GEM Change the Stakes testing committee. There are wonderful emails flying around that I can barely keep track of. And they go beyond NYC and are reaching out nationally. These parents who seemed isolated before have begun to find each other through the Change the Stakes conduit. Build it and they will come - which is what GEM seems to do so well. What I love about this process is how GEM does not try to take ownership and control but allows the group to breathe and go forth and organize. I foresee this opt-out group touching base with the Willimsburg/Greenpoint parents fighting Eva/Eric and this can create a citywide organizing group to jump into the political battles ahead. A bunch of them were at our evaluation event yesterday and were delightful to meet.

The UFT of course is silent (and they took quite a bashing at our Teacher Evaluation Nightmare Forum  yesterday.)

As I was finishing this up I came across this post on Schools Matter: Special Ed Child Forced to Take Test, Mom Threatened by School Officials in Oceanside, NY

While many parents in NYC report some decent experiences when discussing opting out with their principals, this parent faced the kind of principal so many teachers face.
Well,  I had a somewhat disturbing conversation with our principal. I brought my child in to school at noon, after the testing period, and was told that, "according to Legal", if he entered the building at whatever time, they were "required" to  administer the test. I hadn't read through the threads here today, where i see that some schools have made accommodations that permit some of the opted-out students to help out in other classrooms. So, if "Legal" says my son is "required" to take the test if he's in the building, why is this not being enforced city-wide? (answer: it's a bunch of bull).

She acted as if she were confused by my opposition to the test: "testing has been around for years!" Yes, I said, but not in this way-- and please don't pretend you're not aware of the controversy surrounding these particular tests. I mentioned the stress it placed on my son, along with the fact that the teacher evals were tied to scores. "Oh my  gosh, so are you from the union? You sound as if you're making an argument for the teacher's union!" (not that there's anything wrong with that). I pointed out that the real issue for me, as a parent, was that the tie-in to teacher evals is bound to alter the dynamic between student and teacher-- or should i say test-taker and evaluee?

I politely told her that this was no easy decision for us (after she rather offensively said "I don't see how you could place him in the middle of all this")-- as if I were simply using my child to, i don't know, run for political office...

Finally  I said, "we understand that we'll need to talk about possible consequences to our decision, but we feel we're making it in his best interest" to which she replied "well, he'll have to go to summer school."

Really, I said. He's been on the honor roll; he's reading at the fourth-grade level; he won first place in the science fair-- what possible academic justification would you have for making him go to summer school? She smiled and shrugged her shoulders. "We have to follow the rules, whatever they are" (like the one "requiring" her to administer the test if he's in the building?)

I left it with "well, we don't accept that" and "thank you for your time"... I handed her the temperate, polite letter I'd written explaining our decision and she promised to read it. How wonderful for us.

But I'm glad we're doing it. We don't intend to back down in the face of such bland bureaucratic intimidation-- I only wish I could do this without putting my son in this situation...although when we left he said "you and me...linked, Dad. I'm on your side."

Right. So on to victory. Sigh.
 And this came in from a principal:
As angry as I was before, seeing the tests today (which we are not allowed to quote in any way) has sent me over the edge! I haven't even read all of them yet but the fifth grade test is unbelievable. Easy reading selections and lots of trick questions--more than I have ever seen before--that are absolutely no indication of any kind of 5th grade level reading comprehension. My APs and I can't even figure out what answer they are looking for in some questions! I think we absolutely need to fight that these tests be made public. People will be shocked to see them.
Leonie asks:
Can we have teachers take a look at the ELA passages and tell us, either on or off the record, how confusing and/or ambiguous the choices of answers are?

And note this:
Texas anti-testing resolution; 282 districts adopted so far TASA - http://goo.gl/mTdc7
 This is the website of the Texas Assoc of School Administrators , which has been promoting the reso.  PAA along with other national orgs will release an adapted version next week for NYS and the nation.

More incoming:
There has been a notable difference in my students' affect on this second day of testing. They are much more restless and easily frustrated. Out of the 6 kids in my testing group, 3 have refused to answer the extended response question (a straightforward question, but the story was SO short that the kids have to repeat details they gave in the short response questions). One boy accidentally spilled water on his table and a little bit got on his test. He's currently in the corner curled up in a ball saying he's going to get arrested for messing up the test book. "Fortunately" there are 2 hours left in our testing period so I have plenty of time to convince him otherwise. 4 more days....lord. :(
 
-----
I am a literacy specialist in Rockland and I proctored the fourth grade test today. I thought that the test was terrible and not a true measure, in my opinion, of reading comprehension.  First, some of the early passages in the test were very long (more than two pages) and meandering, making it difficult for 8/9 year-old readers to clearly discern the principal problem among several - or the problem the test-maker thought was the principal problem. These long passagers put an undue burden on young reader's stamina during the early part of the test. Even though I am an adult who reads a lot (I am currently finishing my doctoral dissertation in language and literacy) , i found getting through the long passages and questions mentally tiring. This was in part due to the fact that the questions were convoluted and designed to "catch" students in test traps. In addition, some of the test's print features were inconsistent (i.e., same exact phrases were bolded in some question and not others). The word choice both in the question stem and in the answer choices was meant to obscure meaning. Choosing at times arcane vocabulary to refer to text information in the correct choices.  I have been a teacher for 19 years and a literacy specialist for 13, and I can say with some degree of confidence that this test was unfair and not a good instrument to measure students ability to read proficiently and use complex text to think critically and learn about the world. I feel sad for my wonderful and hard working students who sat for 90 minutes running through an unfair reading rat maze for political antics and for the benefit of corporate profiteers. I am afraid for the profession I love and for the future of public education.

4 comments:

  1. There is SO much confusion about the consequences of opting out of the tests for NYC DOE parents.

    Is there a place that posts information about consequences? Many people would do it if they felt that it didn't put their children or teachers or schools at risk.

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  2. Lots going on with this listserve. Email me at normsco@gmail.com and I'll plug you in. A lot of smart people trying to figure this all out. Lessons learned will be valuable in the future.

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  3. Thank you to all the parents who have taken a firm and public stand and opted out of the tests. Opting out en masse is the only way to get the message across. My children, who are now in high school, attended 261 in Brooklyn. My 12th grader's third grade class was the first third grade class to have to sit for standardized tests. That year those scores were only used as a gage. I had also considered opting out of the tests during fourth grade as I saw where this was headed. At that time, there were not as many parents as concerned or if there were I did not know them. Additionally, fourth grade scores are used for middle school admissions for some District 15 schools and parents rightfully don't want to jeopardize their children's middle school admissions.

    I knew that my older child would score "4"s" on the fourth grade tests and I actually did speak with the principal about opting out. I see after eight years the spiel has not changed. Ii was told that my child would receive zeros and be held back. I chuckled at that thought and was then told that his teacher and administration would review his "portfolio" in order to decide whether to promote him. Like the parent opting out today, I was also told that if my child was kept home he would be tested as soon as he set foot in the building.

    By the way, for many parents in my district I don't think the impact on a school's score is too much of a factor but middle school admission is.

    With my younger child who is not a stellar student my approach was to just tell my child to do his best. I also refused to do any test prep during school breaks. My concern was the emotional well being of my kid and I would never and have never faulted a teacher for his mediocre performance.

    Sorry for the length and GO PARENTS!

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  4. The principal's observation about 'Easy reading selections and lots of trick questions' has been my conclusion about the tests. This technique fools a lot of people. They look at reading passages and think, "That's appropriate." But it's the questions!! They are often inappropriate to a child's psychology. One of my favorites was a 4th grade open-ended writing prompt which insisted child, after reading about meeting between a girl and Albert Einstein had to write a letter to a friend describing the meeting--from point of view of either the girl or Einstein. What a choice for a 4th grade boy: Pretend you're a girl or pretend you're Einstein. And everybody remembers the prompt from that same test: It showed two frogs sitting under a lamp post and the student was to write their conversation. This test was given at the same time the Budweiser commercials featuring frogs were running. These are the test writers who gave 4th graders a reading passage based on Elijah McCoy's inventiveness. Then, after defining a McCoy product as something of "genuine value," students were asked to look at pictures of various types of maple syrup labels and judge which was "the real McCoy." There's a whole lot packed into this question, nothing having anything to do with a child's reading comprehension.
    The promotion of the data managed school is the truly great swindle of our time.


    If a pediatrician can’t measure your child's height accurately, what do you suppose the chances are of a standardized test maker measuring his reading skill accurately? (See John O'Neil, "Evaluations: Measuring the Squirming Baby," New York Times, 2004-05-11)

    To be a teacher,
    You have to decide who you're
    willing to obey
    And who you're willing to kill. . . .

    I pledge allegiance to the children
    and to books that bring them pleasure;
    A library
    in every school
    With joyful, unstandardized reading for all.
    --Susan Ohanian, "When Childhood Collides with NCLB"

    At least once in your lifetime, take a risk for a principle you believe in--even if it brings you up against your bosses."
    --Daniel Schorr, reflecting, on his 87th birthday, on his life in journalism

    Don't mourn, organize.
    --Mother Jones

    ReplyDelete

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