Opting Out - Two Views

Update:  a third view from a NY parent:

Whatever test, the results need to be teacher, student and parent friendly. They should impact instruction and be understandable for parents and students,” Salazar added. “It should be like a cholesterol test, most of us don’t know the science but we do understand the results.”

end of update

One view comes from two Long Island superintendents with Long Island being the epicenter of opt-outs in NY state.  It is thoughtful and cogent.  From the Suffolk Times Review:

At first glance, the current, heated, conflict over state testing and the “opt-out” movement appears to be a dispute between those who believe in and those who dispute the value of state tests. But this conflict goes deeper. It is a conflict about what is good for children and adolescents, about how children learn and thrive, and about how to raise young people to enter into and contribute to their communities as mature members of a democratic society. 

Those who support testing contend that facing tests, and the concomitant adversity that one might experience (even if the test is developmentally inappropriate) are a part of life. To do otherwise is considered weak, and represents a failure to develop the “grit” necessary to fully engage in life’s challenges. For these people, it is inconceivable that locally developed assessments — perhaps even more purposeful and useful assessments — could accomplish that very same goal.  Living in a culture of fear as we do, many people believe that it is necessary to impose carefully guarded secret tests from above to make sure that we hold incompetent adults — untrustworthy teachers and administrators — accountable for the abject failure of some children who graduate from our public schools.

Then they get even more serious:

While not discarding other learning — the arts, science, history and other subjects — outright, self-appointed education reformers believe teachers and administrators must attend to the English and mathematics tasks above all else. They believe that education is about getting children ready for the world of work, few questions asked. To these reformers, children who go to public schools “live to work” as the saying goes, and ought to be educated to do so.

 Many defenders of current state tests also find it morally reprehensible to break the rules, even if the rules support a broken system. To be an agent of change, and seek to be in favor of a better system is considered wrong and virtually un-American to these people. The system is what it is, and everyone should be quiet and obey the rules. Our founding fathers, who were patriots, would have had a hard time understanding why they risked their lives to establish our democracy if they believed that adherence to the official way of doing things could not be challenged. We would suspect that the likes of Washington, Franklin and Jefferson would do far more than simply opt-out of tests.

  • Underlying the “opt-out” movement is the belief that there are many highly successful school systems around the state that have taught children to read, write and learn mathematics at the highest levels for decades, while also providing these children with serious exposure to science, history, various arts, athletics and a host of meaningful community experiences. 
  •  Underlying the “opt-out” movement is recognition of the reality that helping poor children cannot be done by testing them. 
  • Underlying the “opt-out” movement is the belief that teachers by and large have contributed greatly to the high-level achievements of countless public school students. 
  • Underlying the “opt-out” movement is the belief that a simplistic and suffocating approach to improving education is bad for children — all of them.   
The other view comes from NY State as well - it's the view of the editorial board of the Poughkeepsie Journal.  The Journal asks, "What's next?"

Yes, everyone should have seen this coming. The avalanche of "opt-outs" should have been fairly easy to predict. Agitation, even outrage, about the so-called "Common Core" standards has been steadily building for years. 

Yes, parents and students are within their rights to make this decision, but let's be clear: There could be harmful ramifications. Student progress — or lack thereof — has to be charted and tests are an important component of that. School districts face potential sanctions from the state Education Department if participation rates on the exams are low. And federal funding could be jeopardized as well.

I give them credit for recognizing - what Arne Duncan either won't or can't - that parents do have rights in the public education arena (there are quite a few legal rulings from the Supreme Court on this subject.)

But they get a bit off the rails here:

Nobody should be pleased with or advocating for anarchy. But it's also perfectly clear something is desperately wrong with the education system — that there is a profound disconnect between those who say the Common Core initiative is devastating and detrimental and those who defend at least the concepts, if not the rollout, of the changes.

Do they know what anarchy means?  Shades of Princess Bride, I don't think so.  Because I have not heard any parents say "overthrow public education."  They are asking hard questions about one test.  

But again, I give them credit for pointing out that disconnect.

Here's their final take:

The impetus that led to these curriculum and test changes must not be lost in the public furor or political battles over implementation. The education system has to emerge from this with improvements — but ones that have more administrators, teachers and parents on board and that are rolled out in a logical, manageable way.


Anonymous said…

And to begin this conversation, or, to actually continue it, join us at the Douglass Truth Library tomorrow evening, Thursday, April 23. From 6 til 7:45 we will be discussing how testing is impacting our students, particularly our students of color, and what the alternatives are that we'd like to put on the table.

All are welcome, even the folks at CPPS who organized the invitation-only, comments-disabled, hidden-guest list event on April 30. Come on over! We're transparent and friendly.

There is a lot to talk about here in Seattle.

Anonymous said…
100% opt out at Nathan Hale for juniors!

Patrick said…
Wow. Did Nathan Hale still administer the test for nobody and kick everyone out of their computer lab?
Josh Hayes said…
I've been thinking about this, and I think there's an underlying question that isn't being addressed, and it's touched on here:

"Student progress — or lack thereof — has to be charted and tests are an important component of that.

Well, DOES student progress have to be charted? For what purpose? It seems to me that the unspoken assumption here is that the purpose of education is to produce kids who can perform well on these tests, but that strikes me as begging the question: the tests measure performance because the goal is performance on the test. But IS it? Should it be?

Because the public schools are funded by the public, there is an expectation that there needs to be accountability: what are we getting for our dollars? And people hate squishiness: we've been trained to venerate numbers and the appearance of rigor and reliability. Tests like SBAC provide that appearance, but do they provide useful information for assessing how well schools are doing their job, whatever we think that job should be?

I get it: I'm (among other things) a statistician by training, and I understand the attraction of reams of numbers. But if they mean little, or nothing, than analysis of those numbers is worse than useless: it's potentially damaging. We need to have a concrete discussion in this country about what it means to say that schools are "working" or not, rather than having this glop of test handed down to us as if it were some anointed truth. What should schools do, and how can we tell if they're doing it? This test assumes that schools should be training kids to do the stuff this test consists of. Is that what we want?
Anonymous said…
No one showed up to be tested at the library at Hale so it remained open.

Anonymous said…
Students not testing were in classes learning.
-Honorable Citizens
Patrick said…
Testing reminds me of the digital gas gauge on some 1980s cars. Same old sensor that read the amount of gas +/- 20%, but you could read the amount down the 1/10 of a gallon!
Anonymous said…
Josh, in the same sentence you ask for a concrete discussion but put "works" as regards public school education in parentheses, indicting it intangible quality.

And some glop of a test needs to be done. Glaring inequalities will show up throughout the country after this year's test.

My kids are cramming for the start of their testing next week. It's like one's in college, not 8th grade. But heck, maybe she'll see what a farce cramming knowledge in your mind is just to regurgitate and then forget it as you move on to the next thing.

That's the lesson I'm going for.

Light Bulb
Anonymous said…
Cramming for the SBAC? Why? And how do you even cram for something like that?

Josh Hayes said…
Thanks for reading, Light Bulb, and that's why I put the quotes around it -- because it's sloppy usage to say "our schools are not working!" unless one defines one's terms. One person's "works" is rows of desks with heads bowed over workbooks, but another person (like me, for instance) would find that anathema. I think the hope of the testing establishment is that we will acquiesce to the definition of "schools are working" as "students perform well on this test". I say, no.
Anonymous said…
Totally agree, Josh, there are different ideas on teaching, I thought what you meant by "works" was the definition of a successfully educated person upon graduating. Because that's what NCLB and the Common Core is supposed to be about, I think.

For too long, we've had schools graduating students, mostly poor and of color, who have no skills and are unable to advance their position in life or even understand the workings of our society in a meaningful way. The new tests are supposed to find these schools that are doing an abysmal job of educating their students and start funneling money and research to help change the situation.

My one kid(8th) want to know why they have to study all this new material for math in the last few weeks, reviewing things they learned last year, arcane vocabulary; while the teacher tells them 70% of students will fail the test.
My answer was that at her school, a northend middle school, it will no doubt be 70% passing and that the idea is to find problems in school systems nationwide. That's my understanding.

I've felt for many years that the US has been failing many of it's students by not having a national education system, like most modern democracies. Having local school boards decide to teach creationism and abstinence only sex ed are the most obvious examples of the dangers of our decentralized approach.
While the test may be flawed, I see it as a step in the right direction towards a day when a student in the US is assured of a good and meaningful education wherever they live, from Kotzebue to Kansas.
As far as the techniques of teachers such as yourself to achieve these goals, there are amazing new ways to teach and I am impressed every day by what my kids tell me about their schools and teachers. I think SPS is a fantastic district despite all its problems. As my oldest enters high school next year, I'm hoping she gets you as a sub, or maybe you'll get full time?

Light Bulb
Patrick said…
Light Bulb, on the other hand the religious right has so much influence over national politics that if we had a national education system, it's quite likely NO students in the U.S. would hear about evolution, geology, sex ed, climate change, or the less pleasant aspects of U.S. history.

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