Friday, April 17, 2015

Norm in The Wave: Opt Out (of tests) Movement Causing Panic in the Streets - and Halls of Power

Published April 17, 2015

Opt Out (of tests) Movement Causing Panic in the Streets - and Halls of Power
By Norm Scott

I was gratified to get a message from Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder that he had voted NO on the Cuomo budget with its destructive impact on public education. It passed anyway and “Hall of shame” lists of state legislators who voted for it have gone viral nationally. It was good to not see Phil’s name on that list. Phil and I have a lot we disagree on when it comes to education. He supports choice, charters and the income tax credit that would allow people to get a tax break for private schooling.  I won’t get into the weeds on why I disagree with him at this point. As I write this on the morning NY State testing begins, there are other fish to fry.

I’ve been working with groups critical of high stake testing for many years. One of the groups here in NYC that I helped found is Change the Stakes, a mostly NYC parent group that has led the way in urging parents to opt out  of the tests.  (8 Reasons to Opt Out and How to Do It: Slogans like “My child is not a test score,” have been sweeping the nation as part of a “deny them the data” movement: data this is not being used to assist teachers and students (scores don’t come back until after the school year ends) but to punish them.

Two years ago we had a handful of people in NYC opt out. Last year it began to catch on. This year there has been a storm of requests for information. In Long Island and the rest of the state there has been a storm totally the tens of thousands.

I represented CTS at a PTA meeting in Brooklyn recently where parents wanted to know more about opting out. Most won’t because of fear – and threats floating out there that the school will lose funding if too many parents opt out – a lie being floated by the people in power whose entire fabric of phony education reform (deform) that will to their main goal of privatization is threatened by the growing parent rebellion against the oppressive tests and the negative impact on so many children, teachers, and entire school systems.

Schools must make provision for the children who are opting out by finding a space for them – though some districts have what is called a “sit and stare” policy, which forces opt outers to sit with the class and stare at the walls. These policies are being fought.

Entire swaths of Long Island and upstate are having thousands of parent opt out while I expect the movement to grow more slowly here in the city  - CTS is trying to tally the numbers.

I know some non-educators who grew up taking tests, are scratching their heads. The public is still unaware of the insanity going on in NYC schools since Bloomberg took over in 2002. But this is a national problem due to federal intervention by both Bush and Obama. That has caused a right wing/tea  party counter reaction against the testing and the common core – partially a states rights movement. On the left, there has also been a reaction from the progressive parent movement.

The general public is often not aware that test results don’t come back until the summer when kids have already left the class, so the teacher gets no useful information. People say that kids have to get used to tests and show they are college ready. I get that for high school kids. But nine year olds in the 3rd grade?

I have often advocated that tests be given in September. But then ed deformers like Cuomo would lose their main motivation for the tests – using them to rate 50% of a teacher’s work based on these tests – and issue that has outraged parents and teachers. Parents get it that when a teacher’s job is on the line, the focus will be on test performance – and tests by the way that have been disparaged as being faulty. In addition, the system used to rate teachers, known as VAM, has been proven to be completely inaccurate. Cuomo better be ready for more than a few law suits from tenured teachers who are terminated based on faulty tests and faulty measures.

And speaking of tenure, the Cuomo bill extends tenure from 3 to 4 years. Not a big deal some of you are saying, but principals have the right to extend non-tenure year after year, forcing some teachers to wait 6 or 7 years with the sword hanging over them. Why is tenure so important? It is not a lifetime guarantee but offers protection from arbitrary termination because a principal doesn’t like the color of your tie. We have reports of numerous non-tenured teachers being discontinued by psycho principals, who keep getting support from the DOE.

The parent opt out movement has been causing panic amongst the deformers who are (falsely) blaming the unions, which in reality have played a minimal role. The NY State union (NYSUT) did issue a call to opt out but the UFT here in NYC has been a supporter of testing, common core and rating teachers based on test scores.

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