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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Common Core Wars – Parents Opting Out of Testing Can Change Education for the Better

First appreared on Blogcritics.

opt 2 Parents across New York State and other parts of the country are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. This anger stems from school districts ramming testing linked to the infamous Common Core Standards down their children’s throats, which takes an enormous amount of class time away from instruction.

There is also the issue here in New York of connecting the results of said testing to teachers’ evaluations. Parents and teachers have always represented the most important partnership in education – working together they can form the crucial bond that will make a child’s scholastic experience a success. In this case both parents and teachers find themselves even more drawn to being on the same team – for the sake of the children and the teachers’ careers.

All over the United States parents are opting out of standardized student testing. Here in New York State alone, it is estimated that over 150,000 students did not take last week’s state ELA exams (given in grades 3-8). This week the state math exams begin, and the forecast is that the number mentioned above could double or even triple based on dissatisfied parents reacting to the situation at schools across the state.

What is happening here? Is it a "mass act of civil disobedience" as NY Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez labels it? Or is there even something deeper happening here? Could it be that parents are finally realizing their rights in the education equation and are standing up to the bullies in school district offices and state education departments? As a parent and educator, I am leaning toward the latter as the most reasonable and logical explanation.

My children are not in grades that require state testing in their school, but if they were I would definitely “opt out” on their behalf. Besides the inadequate preparation for poorly constructed tests being the reason, my main concern (and I know many other parents agree) is the inordinate level of test anxiety that these assessments create. The “high stakes” atmosphere of teachers being pressured to proctor exams on which they know there students will do poorly, coupled with the realization that the results will be used in their evaluations, creates a pressure cooker for kids. These exams do not provide teachable moments but instead day-upon-day of nervousness and despair.

opt 3As for the exams themselves, these ludicrous instruments set up at least 70% or more of the students to fail (judging by the results here in New York). What authority charged with the best interests of their students would dare to administer such testing?

There is also all the test prep time, the professional development for teachers (inadequate at best but still requiring them to be out of their classrooms), and then even more time for the tests to be marked (again taking teachers out of the classroom). Then, to rub salt into the wounds, these same teachers who know they have not been properly prepared for the Common Core, are asked to prepare the students for exams that they know they are not ready to take. To add insult to injury here in New York, Governor Cuomo and his minions have then said that the results on these exams will be used as part of end of the year teacher evaluations.

Any rational person would take a step back and say, “This is absurd,” but this has always been the plan of Cuomo (and his partner in crime former New York City Mayor Bloomberg), to try to break the teachers’ unions, to fracture teacher tenure, and to support a new charter-school type of mentality that basically means that teachers will be paid off an established salary scale and have little or no job security.

Parents are revolting in mass demonstrations because they are smart and they know who has the best interests of their children in mind (the teachers). Today’s parents have realized that they are the taxpayers – the ones who are funding what these districts and state education departments are doing. Why should they sit back and allow a bunch of bureaucrats to sabotage education by basically condemning children to a school year of teachers teaching to the test? Thankfully, parents and teachers are forging an alliance to take back education, which in essence means eliminating most or all of these standardized tests in favor of something really radical – a day devoted to actual teaching!

opt 1Teachers have a right to be worried – the pernicious plan put forth places them in the crosshairs and they are realizing that they have to fight back. Teachers’ unions are aligning themselves for a push back against the testing, and they are getting overwhelming support from parents who not only value their professionalism but believe they have a right to job security.

Can you imagine any major company creating something they know would fail most consumers? Let’s say a company makes a product that they realize will not work 70% of the time; however, the profits are so large that they put it out there anyway. They also charge their suppliers and store owners to push the defective product and, if they do not, their jobs will be on the line. Well, this is what has happened with standardized testing – especially exams linked to the Common Core – it is a failure and yet it continues to be pushed upon our children.

opt 4Proponents of the Common Core and the testing linked to it will tell you a different tale, but that is because this is BIG business. Testing costs are astronomical, and districts that have signed multi-year contracts with companies are stuck with a faulty product and thus shove it down the throats of their students, teachers, and parents. This is as bad as a doctor who knows a drug does more harm than good but, because of his hospital’s relationship with a pharmaceutical giant, prescribes the drug for patients anyway.

It is reassuring to see so many parents standing up to their districts and education departments. If Gonzalez is right and this is a “movement,” then we have to beat the drum and continue to press forward. We must to get to the point that every child’s parents in every school across the country joins the “opt out” group. This will show where the real power lies in education – the parents!

There have also been subtle threats from district leaders. They say that if parents push to opt-out that the Federal government will withhold funding from school districts. This is another attempt at bullying, but those in elected office should reconsider hurting students by punishing schools with less funding because they didn’t get things to go their way. Parents also hold the power of the vote, and any politician who would advocate withholding funds from schools certainly will feel the pain the next time parents go into the voting booth.

opt 5Standardized testing is starting to look like Humpty Dumpty – the big fall is imminent, and all the testing companies’ horses and all their men won’t be able to put it back together again. When that happens education will return to a place where reading, writing, and arithmetic are more important than expensive testing contracts that only line the pockets of executives who have no idea nor care what happens in a classroom.

For now parents have been exercising their right to opt out of standardized testing in growing numbers, and this trend is not going away. With even more opt outs predicted this week, the hope is that parents will continue taking back the essence of education from people who have obviously forgotten the golden rule – teachers are supposed to teach subject matter not to a test. We are moving in the right direction now, but we need this to be the start of a continuing effort to let school districts and education departments know that inevitable change is coming.

As for teachers, this movement by parents should be an affirmation of their efforts and for them to continue doing what they best – teach! Parents and teachers must continue to unite; they have nothing to lose but their standardized testing chains.

Photo credits: AP, Syracuse.com, genius.com

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