Twas the night before testing…

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photograph courtesy of Common Dreams  

and I’m too exhausted to be clever.

Tomorrow, April 1, 2014, marks opening day of year two of the New York State Common Core assessments in English-language arts (ELA) and math. Like last year, I will be administering the tests to 5th grade English-language learners (ELLs) and to former English-language learners who are entitled to extended time (time and a half).

But I do so grudgingly – with a heavy heart – as I strongly oppose these invalid tests.  They are meaningless, exploitative and cruel.  As a proud member of MORE UFT, I stand in support of NYS parents and educators who are doing the right thing by refusing the 2014 tests, thereby starving the beast.

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting testimonials of the administration of this year’s tests.  Parents, educators and students across New York State – please share with me your own testing experience and I will include it on my blog (you may choose to remain anonymous).

With thanks,

Katie

 

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On NYS Testing: What John King Isn’t Telling Superintendents

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On March 24, 2014 New York State Education Commissioner, John King, published a memo to NYS superintendents regarding the administration of this year’s Common Core state tests. In true Race to the Top fashion, King opens by claiming that New York is leading the country “…toward a more rigorous and challenging system of public education that better prepares our children for college, work, and life.” Note the addition of ‘life’ as a goal. In case you are mourning the omission of the ‘readiness’ bit, worry not; it appears on page two in this paragraph:

“As we all learned last year when we first administered the Common Core assessments, the test is harder, and the proficiency rates will be lower than on the old tests that did not reflect the higher standards. This does not mean our teachers are any less effective or our students are any less prepared. It simply means we have set higher aspirations as we work to help our students be truly college and career ready.”

My favorite part of the letter, though, is when John King condescendingly tells the superintendents that:

“It is especially important that you communicate now to help correct misinformation that can cause anxiety and frustration among students and teachers. When everyone understands how the assessments help us better identify student strengths and needs and better support the growth of classroom teachers, the anxiety will lessen and the students will feel more comfortable.”

Here’s what John King ISN’T addressing in his letter on New York’s Common Core standardized testing program:

1.) From NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE): “Excessive standardized testing is consuming 25% of our children’s academic year. It forces teachers to “teach to test”, costs millions of dollars, teaches children there is only one right answer, takes the joy out of learning, and creates major cheating in school districts.”

2.) The lack of transparency addressed by NYS testing expert Fred Smith: “By contract, Pearson is obligated to produce two reports each year. It is responsible for delivering a Technical Report that includes an analysis of all items—their difficulty levels and how well they functioned, including omission rates. The report is due in December. The 2012 Technical report was not posted until July 2013 (although it bore a 2012 date). This prevented scrutiny of 2012’s operational tests until after April 2013’s core-aligned exams had been given. Whatever knowledge might have been gained from the report pertinent to construction of the 2013 exams was rendered useless. This is consistent with SED’s effort to write off the 2012 exams as being transitional and not comparable to 2013.”

As of 3/24/14, the NYSED has not – to my knowledge – released the technical report of the 2013 tests that was due in December 2013. This Pearson-produced report is costing the state $75,000. Of the 2013 tests, all I know is that my English-language learners (ELLs) received a score of 1 or 2 – 1 is considered ‘failing’ – and that few (if any) are among the 3% of ELLs in New York State who “passed.” I have not seen an item analysis so the test results are completely meaningless to me. In no way do the overall scores reflect what my ELLs know and how they’ve progressed academically. I only have use for my own teacher-created assessments.

Similarly, the state’s ever-changing cut scores are unreliable.

3.) An inordinate amount of planning and organizing time is devoted to preparing for the state tests. Giving the state tests is an administrative and logistical nightmare at the school level. Out-of-classroom teachers are pulled from their regular teaching program to administer and score the tests. Countless hours are spend bubbling testing grids and organizing them alphabetically by class. IEPs (individualized education program) are examined closely to ensure that students with special needs receive the correct testing accommodation(s). These include directions read and re-read, extended time, separate location, on-task focusing prompts, revised test directions, questions read and re-read. ELLs and some former ELLs are pulled from their regular classrooms for testing because they are entitled to extended time in a separate location. Also, there is professional development for teachers on testing policies and procedures including “reporting prohibited conduct by adults, student cheating, and other testing irregularities.”

4.) ELLs with just 12 months in the system are mandated to take the ELA (English-language arts) exam. This is just wrong. Inhumane, really.

5.) The tests are developmentally inappropriate, especially for students with special needs. Here’s what I reported on the length and format of last year’s 5th grade ELA test:

Over the course of three consecutive days, they were asked to answer a total of 63 multiple-choice questions on two different answer grids, and eight short-response questions and two extended-response questions in two different booklets. In order to do this, they had to first carefully read and re-read a large number of reading passages.

The following week, my 5th grade ELLs spent three days taking the math exam. These elementary students were subjected to a total of six days – 13.5 hours – of testing in ELA and math.

John King appears to be nervous about the growing resistance to Common Core standardized testing here in New York. He should be.

Katie Lapham

 

Battling the High-Stakes Testing Beast: from NPE to NYS

To borrow from the lexicon of my students, I’m MAD and sad at the same time, particularly with regards to the New York State Common Core tests that begin on April 1, 2014. At the same time, though, I’m energized and inspired thanks to the many thoughtful and dedicated public education advocates I met at the Network for Public Education’s (NPE) first annual conference, which was held in Austin, Texas on March 1 and 2, 2014.

The conference ended with a call to action; Diane Ravitch led a press conference requesting a Congressional hearing on high-stakes standardized testing.  Here are the details.

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Ever since I administered the NYS Common Core tests last April, I have been a vocal opponent of the Common Core testing program, which is indeed harmful not only to students with disabilities, but also to English-language learners (ELLs). These tests also fail to inform instruction, which is the purpose of assessments, right? Of the 2013 tests, all I know is that my ELLs received a score of 1 or 2 – 1 is considered ‘failing’ – and that few (if any) are among the 3% of ELLs in NYS who “passed.” Where is the $75,000 Pearson technical report that was supposed to be released in December? How can the state’s ever changing cut scores be considered reliable? This post doesn’t even touch upon the inherent flaws of multiple choice testing, and the fact that these Common Core state tests are not teacher-created. Much has already been, and continues to be, written about this.

When I returned from Texas, I discovered that the New York State Education Department (NYSED) had released its School Administrator’s Manual for the 2014 Common Core Math and ELA tests for grades 3-8. It is a whopping 86-pages long, and its treatment of ELLs is  particularly draconian.  Here’s an excerpt.

page 9 – Testing English-language learners

  • Schools are permitted to exempt from the 2014 Common Core English Language Arts Tests only those English language learners (including those from Puerto Rico) who, on April 1, 2014, will have been attending school in the United States for the first time for less than one year.
  • Recently arrived English language learners may be eligible for one, and only one, exemption from the administration of the 2014 Grades 3–8 Common Core English Language Arts Tests.
  • Subject to this limitation, schools may administer the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test (NYSESLAT) in lieu of the 2014 Grades 3–8 Common Core English Language Arts Tests, for participation purposes only, to recently arrived English language learners who meet the criterion above. All other English language learners must participate in the 2014 Grades 3–8 Common Core English Language Arts Tests, as well as in the NYSESLAT.
  • The provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) do not permit any exemption of English language learners from the 2014 Grades 3–8 Common Core Mathematics Tests. These tests are available in Chinese (traditional), Haitian-Creole, Korean, Russian, and Spanish. The tests can be translated orally into other languages for those English language learners whose first language is one for which a written translation is not available from the Department.

That’s right niños, only ONE exemption is allowed from the ELA. After just 12 months in our school system, you will be subjected to the same horror show as the rest of the state’s public school students in grades 3-8. Don’t worry, the state has generously offered to give you extended time (time and a half) on the tests; instead of 90 minutes per day for six days (3 days for ELA, 3 days for math), 5th grade ELLs, for example, are entitled to 135 minutes each testing day. That’s a total of 13.5 hours! As for the Common Core math test, there’s no getting off the hook the first year you are here because state provides translation services! And after all that, in May we are going to assess your English-language proficiency level by giving you a lengthy, four-part test in speaking, listening, reading and writing. NYSED has been hard at work aligning the NYSESLAT (New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test) to the Common Core State Standards. It’s now more rigorous than ever before!

In 2011, I read a fascinating article by Clifford J. Levy, a New York Times foreign correspondent who relocated his family to Moscow for five years. Instead of sending his kids to an international school, he decided to ‘experiment in extreme schooling’ by enrolling them in a local school where they would – presumably – be classified as RLLs (Russian-language learners). Levy writes, “to throw our kids into a Russian school — that seemed like child abuse.” Child abuse? What would he call a mandate, if such a policy exists in Russia, of forcing newly arrived expat kids to take Russian high-stakes tests? My Brooklyn elementary school gets around 30 newcomers with no English every school year, and many come from countries that use a different alphabet. In the article, Levy describes his kids’ struggles in their first year, from bouts of insomnia and depression to despair. After a mere 12 months, were his three kids mandated to take a nearly seven-hour long Russian-language arts exam over the course of three days? If so, did they opt-out? Prior to moving to Moscow, Levy’s children attended P.S. 321, a well-regarded, progressive elementary school in Park Slope, Brooklyn.  Less than 2% of its student body is comprised of English-language learners, yet a significant number of its kids will likely refuse to take to 2014 NYS Common Core tests. UPDATEa P.S. 321 parent does not expect the opt-out numbers to be significant.  It is not certain at this time how many P.S. 321 students will refuse the tests this year. In contrast, my Title I school, with roughly 150 ELLs, will have no students opt-out.

I echo Fred Smith, NYS testing expert, who testified in December 2013 that New York State “… has acted in bad faith by administering a dishonest testing program for over a decade. This shows no signs of changing with the rush to make the flawed 2013 “core-aligned” exams the new baseline. Therefore, nothing short of a moratorium on these tests is acceptable.”

NYS should cancel this year’s state tests no transparency = no test and I hope that Congress will prioritize an investigation of this destructive assessment practice. Our kids are human beings, not exploitable ‘outputs.’  They deserve better.

-Katie Lapham, NYC public school teacher