NYC Parents – Refuse the MOSL Assessments!

Dear NYC parents,

Did you know that test refusal is not limited to the NYS Common Core ELA (English-language Arts) and math assessments that are administered to students in grades 3-8?  My daughter will be entering first grade this year and I refuse to allow her to take the NYC local assessments, which are used solely for teacher evaluation purposes.

In NYC, these tests – administered to students in K-12 – are referred to as MOSLs (Measures of Student Learning). You can read more about them here and here. Ask your child’s teacher for more information about the MOSLs, specifically which assessment is being used at his/her school (there are various NYCDOE-approved assessments). Below is a copy of my refusal letter in case you wish to use it. I borrowed some of the language from NYS Allies for Public Education’s (NYSAPE) 2015-2016 Refusal Letter, which you can access here. Please also visit Change the Stake’s website for sample opt-out letters that are specific to NYC public schools.

Thanks,
Katie

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Dear ____________,

I am writing to inform you that I refuse to allow my daughter, _______________, to participate in any local/benchmark assessment used in the New York State teacher evaluation system administered in the fall, winter, and spring of the 2015-2016 school year. Specific to New York City is the MOSL testing program, which includes the NYC Performance Tasks for math and ELA (English-language Arts).

My refusal should in no way reflect on the hard work and talents of the teachers and staff at P.S. ______. As both a parent and an educator, I see these tests as harmful, expensive, and a waste of time and valuable resources. The Grade 1 NYC Performance Tasks, in particular, are poorly constructed and developmentally inappropriate. I object to the fact that my daughter’s teachers had no input in creating the tests and rubrics. Assessments should be teacher-created, not written by a testing company or central education department office.

I also refuse to allow any data to be used for purposes other than the individual teacher’s own formative or cumulative assessment. I am opposed to assessments whose data is used to determine school ranking and teacher effectiveness, or is used for any other purpose other than for the individual classroom teacher’s own use to inform his or her instruction.

My family and I are very fond of the P.S. ______community.  I appreciate the school’s commitment to educating the whole child, particularly through the arts, and feel that the city and state’s insidious testing programs take away from this.

Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.  I understand the demands of your job and am grateful for your dedication to the students of P.S. ______.

Kind regards,

Katie Lapham

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Ten Reasons Why NO Child Should Take the NYS Common Core Tests

Dear parents and educators of New York,

I teach elementary school in the East New York section of Brooklyn, New York.  In 2013 and 2014, I administered Pearson’s New York State Common Core tests to English-language learners (ELLs). There is nothing meaningful about these assessments; no teacher I know supports them and I will not allow my child to take the tests when she enters third grade (even if the high-stakes are removed).  Here are ten reasons why Pearson’s NYS Common Core tests should never see the light of day.

1.) They are too long, especially for students in grades 3-5.  Over the course of six days, my 5th grade ELLs spent a total 13.5 hours sitting for the ELA (English-language arts) and math assessments. Here is what the 5th grade ELA assessment looked like last year (2014):

Day ONE: 27 pages long, 6 unrelated reading passages, 42 multiple choice questions

Day TWO: 3 unrelated reading passages, 7 multiple choice questions, 3 short response questions (written), 1 extended response question (written)

Day THREE: 3 reading passages, 5 short response questions (written), 1 extended response question (written)

Additionally, the below graph – created by Lace to the Top – shows that the third grade Common Core tests are twice as time-consuming as the SAT.

1521228_10202796253365339_1970773454_n2.) They are developmentally inappropriate.  Lace to the Top recently analyzed third grade Common Core test samples and determined that Pearson’s NYS Common Core test questions are 2-3 grade levels above the grade being tested.  The reading passage used for third grade was shown to have a readability average of 7.3 (7th grade)!

3.) Pearson’s NYS Common Core standardized tests, which are costing the state $32 million, are not teacher-created, nor do they accurately reflect the contextualized skills and knowledge that students gain in the classroom.  The tests are poorly constructed and uninspiring, and they contain ambiguous questions.  557 New York State principals signed this letter denouncing the tests.

4.) With Pearson’s Common Core state tests at the center of K-8 education in New York State, curriculum has narrowed, particularly in schools in low-income areas whose test scores tend to be low.  Fearing increased scrutiny and potential closure, raising test scores has become the main focus in many schools.  Some schools are little more than test prep factories with diminishing enrichment and project-based learning opportunities. Beginning in kindergarten, students are being taught test-taking strategies, most notably through the context-lacking close reading technique used in Common Core-aligned English-language arts.  Pearson’s developmentally inappropriate and poorly constructed scripted reading program – ReadyGEN – is test prep for the NYS Common Core ELA test.

5.) The Common Core’s testing program encourages standardized testing in grades K-2. Title I schools in particular feel pressured to show – through periodic data collection – that students are learning the skills needed to perform well on the grades 3-8 Common Core state tests. This is what the standardized testing program looks like in my Title I first grade classroom this school year:

  • Sept/Oct 2014 Common Core-aligned NYC Baseline Performance Tasks in ELA and Math (MOSLs used for teacher evaluation purposes only).
  • Running Records administered one-on-one 4-5 times per year (they test reading levels).
  • 12 Common Core-aligned end-of-unit GO Math! assessments (each comprised of 24 multiple choice questions and a multi-step extended response question).
  • Monthly Common Core-aligned ReadyGEN writing assessments testing students’ understanding of narrative, persuasive and informative writing.
  • Mid-year benchmark assessment in ELA – End of unit 2 ReadyGEN test comprised of 5 multiple choice comprehension questions, 5 multiple choice vocabulary questions and 1 written response.
  • Mid-year benchmark assessment in Math – GO Math! test comprised on 40 multiple choice questions; 15 questions on skills not yet learned.
  • May/June 2015 Common Core-aligned NYC Performance Tasks in ELA and Math (MOSLs used for teacher evaluation purposes only).

6.) The New York State Education Department (NYSED) lacks transparency and ethics.  In upholding the corporate education reform agenda, which seeks to privatize public education, the NYSED’s intention is to perpetuate the false narrative that our schools are failing.  Fred Smith, a NYS testing expert and statistician, and Lace to the Top have reported at length about Pearson’s poor quality tests and the NYSED’s unreliable test data, specifically its delayed release of technical reports, which evaluate the Common Core tests, missing test questions and predetermined test scores.  The NYSED manipulates cut scores in order to legitimize its above-mentioned agenda; not only are cut scores constantly changing but the NYSED sets them AFTER the tests have been scored. Thus, the NYSED’s claim that 70% of our students are failing is invalid.  

7.) 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 spent 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.”

8.) English-language learners (ELLs) must take Pearson’s NYS Common Core ELA test after just one year in the system.  Students with IEPs are also required to take the tests unless they qualify for the New York State Alternate Assessment (NYSAA), which too is flawed. For a variety of reasons, it is misleading, insulting and grossly irresponsible of the NYSED to claim that 97% of ELLs and 95% of students with IEPs in grades 3-8 are “failures” in ELA.  These figures completely disregard the growth students make in our classrooms.

9.) Our students are suffering. I’ve heard countless stories of kids who are sickened – both physically and emotionally – from New York State’s toxic Common Core testing program. I’ve personally witnessed students’ tears, anger and despair, and it’s heartbreaking. There is nothing humane, nothing redeeming about these tests.  Morale is plummeting as teachers and administrators feel complicit in the state’s abuse of our children.

10.) Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed basing 50% of a teacher’s evaluation on test scores from these highly flawed Common Core state assessments.  Not only are these test scores unreliable but the American Statistical Association has warned against using the value-added model (VAM) to rate teachers and schools.

As you can see, the negative impact of NYSED’s punitive Common Core testing program is far-reaching. But we – as parents and educators working together – can take back power by refusing these tests.  In order to save public education, a cornerstone of democracy in the United States, we must start thinking communally rather than individually.

Taking these tests is not “good practice” for our young learners; in fact, administering the tests is bad pedagogical practice.  In addition, high test scores do not guarantee admission to selective NYC middle schools.  Contrary to popular belief, opting-out does not hurt schools.  With regards to opt-out’s impact on teachers, Change the Stakes, a NYC-based organization that opposes the NYSED’s testing program, writes,

It is not helpful to speculate about which students should or should not opt out in order to protect teachers’ evaluations. The bottom line is that the current teacher evaluation system is flawed. Opting out in large numbers is the most powerful way for parents to let policymakers know that we do not want our children, teachers and schools evaluated based on standardized test scores.

Our students and teachers are not failures; rather the NYSED has failed us.

– Katie

Here are some useful resources about the Common Core testing program:

 

What’s REALLY Rotten in Our Schools: Poor Quality MOSL Assessments Used to Rate NYC Teachers

imgresThe cover of the 11/3/14 issue of TIME Magazine blasts so-called bad teachers for being “rotten apples” and suggests that tech millionaires have figured out a way to get rid of them.  However, what really stinks – among other ill-conceived corporate education reform initiatives – is the reliance on student test scores to measure teacher effectiveness.  Once again, I wish to draw attention to the flaws of Advance, the New York City Department of Education’s new teacher evaluation and development system, which was implemented in 2013 in order to comply with New York State education law 3012-c.  This 2010 legislation mandated an overhaul of the Annual Professional Review (APPR) for teachers and school leaders and introduced the current highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective rating system, a cornerstone of corporate education reform’s plan for teacher accountability.

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As the above NYCDOE pie chart shows, 20% of our overall teacher effectiveness rating comes from a local measure of student learning or MOSL (another 20% of our rating is based on a state measure such as the annual NYS Common Core ELA and math assessments).

Here is the NYCDOE’s definition of “local measure”:

      • Local MeasureRecommended by a school committee appointed by the principal and UFT Chapter Chair and approved by the principal, each teacher’s local measure will be based on student growth on assessments and growth measures selected from a menu of approved options for each grade and subject (from the NYCDOE website).

My school chose the K-5 NYC Baseline Performance Tasks* in ELA and math as our local measure (MOSL).  Students receive baseline scores for their performance on the fall assessments and will be tested again at the end of the school year to determine their growth in these two subject areas. While MOSL may no longer be an unfamiliar term to NYC parents, most have likely never set eyes on these performance tasks and may not realize how meaningless and labor intensive they are. *It is worth noting that in 2013-2014, these tests were called ‘assessments.’ They are now referred to as ‘tasks,’ but do not be fooled; they are still non-teacher created standardized tests. 

Last month, it took me two and a half days to administer the 2014-2015 Grade 1 Math Inventory Baseline Performance Tasks to my students because the assessment had to be administered as individual interviews (NYCDOE words, not mine).  The math inventory included 12 tasks, many of which were developmentally inappropriate.  For example, in demonstrating their understanding of place value, first graders were asked to compare two 3-digit numbers using < , > and =. Students were also asked to solve addition and subtraction word problems within 100.

While I do not believe my students were emotionally scarred by this experience, they did lose two and a half days of instructional time and were tested on skills that they had not yet learned.  It is no secret that NYC teachers and administrators view these MOSL tasks as a joke. Remember, they are for teacher rating purposes ONLY. “You want them to score low in the fall so that they’ll show growth in the spring,” is a common utterance in elementary school hallways. Also, there will be even more teaching-to-the-test as educators will want to ensure that their students are proficient in these skills before the administration of the spring assessment. Some of the first grade skills might be valid, but others are, arguably, not grade-level appropriate.

The Grade 1 ELA (English-language Arts) Informational Reading and Writing Baseline Performance Task took less time to administer (four periods only) but was equally senseless, and the texts we were given had us shaking our heads because they resembled third grade reading material.  In theory, not necessarily practice, students were required to engage in a non-fiction read aloud and then independently read an informational text on the same topic. Afterwards, they had to sort through a barrage of text-based facts in order to select information that correctly answered the questions.  On day one, the students had to complete a graphic organizer and on day two they were asked to write a paragraph on the topic.  Drawing pictures to convey their understanding of the topic was also included in the assessment.

Not only are these “tasks” a waste of valuable instructional time, but at least six professional development sessions, which in theory are supposed to be teacher-designed, have been sacrificed to score them. The ELA rubric, in particular, was poorly written and confusing.  It’s critical to note that these MOSL tests and rubrics were not created by working teachers. If they had been, they would have looked much different and the ELA rubric would have made sense. Sentiments ranging from incredulity to outrage have characterized our scoring sessions.

I suspect the majority of NYC public elementary schools selected these Baseline Performance Tasks as their MOSL option, however an alternative MOSL, which few know about, exists.  Prior to the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, 62 NYC schools, including The Earth School and Brooklyn New School, were chosen to participate in the Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE) program, which – among other goals – satisfies the MOSL component of the NYC teacher evaluation and development system.

In her 10/27/14 weekly letter, Dyanthe Spielberg, principal at Manhattan’s The Neighborhood School (P.S. 363), wrote the following:

“Our PROSE plan modifies the MOSL (Measures of Student Learning) portions of the DOE teacher evaluation structure by substituting collected student work, observational data and narrative reports for MOSL.  This process includes an emphasis on looking at student work, and reviewing informal and formal assessments.  It requires ongoing reflective inquiry, as well as revisions of teacher plans and practice in relation to review of student work, data and feedback. Together, teachers will align criteria to create goals and assess progress.  This collaboration, both with the grade level teams, other colleagues and parents, as well as partner schools, will allow teachers to conclude the year with a clear analysis of how they have grown as educators related to their actual performance in the classroom as opposed to a rating based on a student’s individual performance on an individual day. We are excited about this opportunity to practice and demonstrate how we think about assessment, teaching and learning, and to build on our partnerships with other NYC public progressive schools.” 

Wow! Are they hiring? When a teacher friend told me about PROSE, I immediately became resentful and wished my school had participated in this program.  Is anyone in Brooklyn’s District 19 even aware that PROSE exists? The NYCDOE, the UFT and even the Mayor’s Office claim that all NYC public schools were notified about the PROSE application process. I was on the School Leadership Team (SLT) last year and had no knowledge of it.

Charter schools aside, two public school systems within the NYCDOE appear to be evolving; one for NYC’s relatively affluent and well-educated population whose kids attend progressive schools that are given waivers to assess students outside of the Chancellor’s Regulations and the UFT contract, and the other for the masses.  I have long felt that Tweed does not trust educators at Title I schools like mine and therefore feels obliged to micromanage us.  Like second-hand clothing shipped off to Haiti, we are the ones who get the unpopular, but free, Core Curriculum, like ReadyGEN for ELA.

Education reformers, who saddled us with an excessive testing program and the Common Core, claim that their remedy – a very costly experiment – will close the achievement gap. But what about the widening quality of education gap? Are teachers to blame for bad curricula and assessments that they didn’t even create? Why should our ratings be based – in part – on poorly designed and often developmentally inappropriate tests that do not adequately reflect classroom instruction and students’ knowledge? Will TIME showcase this widely held viewpoint on a future magazine cover?