TAKE ACTION

Opt-Out Remains Strong Despite the Former Commissioner’s Scare Tactics; Room Continues to be Made for Whole-Child Initiatives

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 9, 2019
More information contact:
Jeanette Deutermann (516) 902-9228; nys.allies@gmail.com
Kemala Karmen (917) 807-9969; nys.allies@gmail.com 
New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE)
 
Opt-Out Remains Strong Despite the Former Commissioner’s Scare Tactics; Room Continues to be Made for Whole-Child Initiatives
 
The New York State Education Department released this year’s grades 3-8 test scores and opt out numbers at the end of August. Once again parents and educators searched in vain for justification for the millions of dollars spent on a testing system that has done little to improve student success or restore confidence and trust in our state’s education department.
 
After decades of testing, there remain significant gaps in results between Black and Hispanic students and their White and Asian peers, between economically disadvantaged and economically advantaged students, and between students with disabilities and nondisabled students. Continuing for another few decades on the same exact path of expensive and excessive tests hoping for different outcomes is a disservice to children and our society.
 
Although the outgoing Commissioner was able to slightly reduce the rate at which parents refused participation in the assessments, she accomplished this through fear and intimidation, urging district administrators to use whatever tactics necessary to increase participation rates. We documented these abhorrent tactics as we learned about them, here. In the end, these tactics didn’t work as most schools did not meet the 95% participation rate.
 
“The gap is still growing after far too many years. It’s time to own this and admit that annual testing in two subjects with draconian stakes attached haven’t helped the kids whom the tests are supposed to help. Instead let’s look to create real ways to help kids in underserved groups — with proven actions, backed by research. Let’s take the enormous taxpayer funds spent on destructive testing and invest instead in what we know works: food programs, after school care and programs, small classes, fully staffed school health offices—and so much more,” says Lisa Litvin, parent, former President Hastings-on-Hudson Board of Education and former Co-President Hastings-on-Hudson PTSA
 
Kemala Karmen, a founding parent member of NYC Opt Out, adds, “Not only does the so-called achievement gap remain, the whole notion is controversial and backward. To quote Ibram X. Kendi, historian and author of How to Be an Antiracist, ‘What if different environments actually cause different kinds of achievement rather than different levels of achievement? What if the intellect of a poor, low-testing Black child in a poor Black school is different—and not inferior—to the intellect of a rich, high-testing White child in a rich White school? What if the way we measure intelligence shows not only our racism but our elitism?’  Our state would do better to focus on ensuring that all students start with equal opportunities rather than annually trot out test scores that merely reflect an uneven starting line.”
 
Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters points out that “with all the considerable money and time spent on these tests, and the anxiety they have provoked in children, the state hasn’t been able to devise a valid or reliable assessment that gives any useful information either to districts or teachers about how to improve instruction or the conditions of learning.”
 
“Consider the harm to our students with special needs and to English language learners,” reasons Jamaal Bowman, principal of CASA Middle School (Bronx, NY) and candidate for Congress for the 16th district. “Well over half are considered ‘far below grade level’ each and every year. These tests are flawed single measures that do not consider the complexity and diversity of intelligence. Our kids are so much more. Let’s create a system of progressive pedagogies like Montessori and Reggio Emilio that helps them to prove it.”
 
Jeanette Deutermann, parent of two, and founder of Long Island Opt Out said, “The New York State Assembly bowed to unexplained pressure exerted by the NYSUT Leadership and blocked legislation–that the Senate had already passed–that would have codified protections for students who opt out. In doing so, they failed to ensure even the most basic protections for student and parental rights; ALL parents have the right to decide whether to allow their children to participate in high-stakes testing without fear of district retaliation. We urge NYSED and the Board of Regents to use the opportunity for a new Commissioner and new direction to move away from test-based education policies, and call upon elected officials to act now to protect students and parents who choose to opt out in EVERY district across New York State.”

Jake Jacobs, co-administrator of the NY Badass Teachers Association, sums it up: “New York’s testing policy is still highly flawed and scientifically invalid for high-stakes decisions. Students are trained to guess at answers they don’t know, eliminating bad choices and then basically just gambling. Each year, thousands of scores fall right on the borderline of passing/failing, meaning lucky or unlucky guesses determined all these outcomes. Because the tests also do not account for home circumstances, from private tutors to neglect or abuse, they are not a reality-based method for diagnosing or removing obstacles to learning. Most absurd of all, the state is still using test scores in math or ELA in the evaluations of teachers of other subjects. I teach art, but have had math scores in my annual evaluation since 2013 as part of district-based ‘compliance’ agreements. And as ever, the formulas used to calculate the scores are secret, as is the process by which the proficiency levels are set, aka the ‘cut scores.’ Who cares about minor fluctuations in scores when the tests are still unverifiable, still grossly inaccurate, and still ignoring the factors that matter most?”
 
                             Please click on these links to download the 2019-2020 Opt Out Letter:
                                                             English version & Spanish version
 
             NYSAPE is a grassroots coalition of over 70 parent and educator groups across the state.

Scroll to Top