New York State Assessments are scheduled to take place next week. Beginning April 1, students statewide in grades 3-8 will sit and take a three day ELA exam followed by a math exam a few weeks later. Now that Common Core is all abuzz, and people are jumping at any chance they can to blame Common Core for the dismal state of public education, rest assured that these state tests have been in place well before Common Core. They’ve been here since 2002 when No Child Left Behind was created. However, this is only the second year that the state tests are Common Core aligned, and the second year that these state tests are tied to teacher evaluation scores. It’s also the second year that parents have gotten more educated, more involved, and much louder.
It’s the perfect storm, so to speak.
Until last year, I, along with most parents, did not realize that parents have the right to refuse state testing on behalf of their children. Parents have the right to refuse. There is no provision that allows for the opting out of state assessments, however according to parents’ federal constitutional rights: The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents possess the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” The Court also declared that “the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35) The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children’s education, the Court has stated, “It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder.” (Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158)
In a nutshell, parents have a say in their child’s education, and the right to refuse state assessments falls under that umbrella. Starting next week, thousands of parents in New York State are doing just that. I am one of them.
The reason my children will never participate in these assessments again is simple: they are not a useful diagnostic tool that benefit the child in any way. The test is given in April and the scores are received in July. There is no data or explanation of where the child needs additional help; the score is not sent home with identified areas of weaknesses. At that point, my child’s teacher is no longer my child’s teacher anymore. They are not used to determine promotion or retention of grade levels, nor are they factored into the child’s grade at all. The tests are not used as a learning or teaching tool. Instead, they are used to score and label children a 1-4 and then packed away in a ‘secure location’ for the next few years, never to be seen again. Once the scores are released, the children become statistics.
The state assessments have always been flawed. In theory, I suppose it *sort of* makes sense. Children take a test toward the end of the school year and it shows how well they know the material; how proficient they are (or aren’t). Students have always taken final exams at the secondary level which is a valid assessment tool used to gauge how well the child learned the material during that school year. The teacher knows what she taught, creates a final exam, and that exam is factored into the student’s grade. The problem with state assessments is that the teachers have no idea what will be on them and so much emphasis is placed on these scores in terms of district ranking that teachers have always felt a sort of obligated stress to continually raise scores. When I taught at the 7th grade level I was consumed with those scores. I didn’t spend the entire year on test prep, but I certainly spent the weeks prior on test prep. I needed those scores to improve! The school needed them to improve so we could improve our school ranking. The district needed those scores to improve so we could improve our district ranking–and this was all before scores were a part of our teacher evaluation score.
Now that the state assessments are factored into the teacher’s APPR score, I can only imagine that test prep throughout the state has increased. Standardized tests factoring into teacher evaluation scores is not an effective measure of teaching. Teachers work with our children for close to 180 days. Basing an evaluation score on three days out of the 180 is not going to give an accurate portrayal of that teachers effectiveness. I don’t need my children to sit through three and half hours of testing to tell me whether or not their teachers have taught them. I know they have. They have taught them much more than can be shown on a bubble sheet or through a few short response questions.
I’m not sure why society has begun to doubt teachers lately and feel that school districts need to prove that their teachers are actually teaching throughout the school year. If you want proof that children are learning, I can assure you, they are. Some more quickly than others, but that’s what education is. It’s an entire set of variables that are factored together to create a clear picture of that individual child and where that child started the year. Giving children in every school across the state the same test and then expecting to see a clear picture of how school districts and the teachers employed by those distrcts are performing is flawed. A district with high poverty levels and a large ESL population should not be compared to a suburban affluent district and then ranked and published in an annual school rankings publication. It’s comparing two completely different populations.
I do not want my children used as a part of a ranking system. I do not want my children to work hard all year long, and then feel that their scores on one test is definitive of the type of students they are.
Our children are not percentages or scores. In addition to being students, they are athletes, community members, school theater participants, student government representatives, and musicians–all of which can’t be shown on a bubble sheet of a state assessment.
The state assessments do not accurately measure the growth of our children. They do not accurately measure the effectiveness of our teachers and they take up entirely too much time and energy in our schools. The amount of money spent on standardized testing continues to increase, while the amount of money public school districts receive in the form of state funding continues to decrease. Districts are making drastic cuts to staff and programs but testing continues to stay in place using an abundant amount of district and taxpayer dollars.
Parents and teachers have watched the landscape of public education change as corporate reformers have swept in and made drastic changes. Our voices, research, and dedication to advocacy to public education is making a difference. One child at a time, test refusal is our way to stand up for what is our “fundamental right to direct the upbringing and education of our children” (Pierce 268).
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